“The Australian National Audit Office today released the audit report “Building the Education Revolution – Primary Schools for the 21st Century” that government has been sitting on for a few months. You can download it in all its glory here.

Update: This post is mostly for those that have read the report – if you want a primer on what it says, Grogs Gamut has the good oil.

Considering the criminally flatulent quality of the reporting that went on with the Hawke report into the insulation program, or for that matter, the recent reporting of just about any serious piece of marginally complex evidence (The Minter Ellison Risk Register springs to mind!) – as the media reports roll in, feel free to vent spleen at any erroneous piffle you come across since we all have access to the actual audit report itself.

UPDATE:

So far – The ABC gets it wrong (see comments) has replaced it’s original reporting with a far more accurate piece by Emma Rodgers.

Originally the ABC used the same nonsense that The Oz does to get it wrong.

The Oz goes:

While Ms Gillard and Kevin Rudd have spent months lauding the project for providing jobs for “tradies” the report suggests the jury is out on the success of the program.

“In particular arrangements established to monitor the effect of the BER program on employment have relied on data collected at the project level,” the report says.

“This data cannot be aggregated in a meaningful way to inform an assessment of progress against BER program employment outcomes that would complement the macroeconomic modelling for the broader National Building and Jobs Plan.”

Except that the report isn’t saying what they think it is saying.

The actual quote from the report The Oz is using comes from page 42.

A substantial majority of Education Authorities questioned the usefulness of some of the monitoring arrangements they were expected to undertake for the BER program. In particular, arrangements established to monitor the effect of the BER program on employment have relied on data collected at the project level. This data cannot be aggregated in any meaningful way to inform an assessment of progress against BER program employment outcomes that would complement the macroeconomic modelling for the broader Nation Building and Jobs Plan undertaken by the Treasury

Yet the report also says on page 23:

The responsibility for monitoring and reporting performance under the Nation Building and Jobs Plan is shared at the Commonwealth level by the Treasury, the Coordinator‐General and DEEWR. The Treasury has responsibility for modelling and reporting on the economic effect of the plan, as well as other stimulus measures.

What the ANAO found was that DEEWR data on the number of jobs created at the local level contains too much uncertainty for it to be aggregated up to the national level and be used as a substitute or even complement to Treasury analysis- a fact that DEEWR itself was always open about.From page 139:

DEEWR has informed the ANAO that the jobs data collected from Education Authorities and schools has limited application and is generally used to inform an understanding of jobs supported on a project‐by‐project basis. The department also advised that all measurement tools have limitations and that the objective of collecting project level data was to provide local communities with information about the jobs supported by individual projects at schools. These data complemented the macro‐level monitoring undertaken by the Treasury across the economic stimulus plan, but were never intended to be aggregated to provide a picture of jobs supported through BER P21. The inability to aggregate project level data means that it is not currently possible to accurately determine the effect of the BER program on employment.

That isnt saying “the jury is out” as The Oz alleges, for we know already from Treasury that the BER has created substantial jobs at the national level through increasing investment in construction. What is being said here is that we can’t accurately say exactly how many jobs were created from just the BER alone.

The final point in the audit report, 7.36 on page 168 sums it all up:

Overall, there are some positive early indicators that the program is making progress toward achieving its intended outcomes, despite the slower than expected implementation of the program. Lead economic indicators, including construction approvals, indicate that the introduction of BER P21 has contributed to a reversal in the decline in non‐residential construction activity that resulted from the global financial crisis. Education industry stakeholders, including peak bodies, Education Authorities and a substantial majority of school principals have also been positive about the improvement in primary school facilities that will result from the program.

UPDATE 2:

It’s also worth repeating point 7.28 – as it goes to the heart of News Ltd fairy tales that get mindlessly regurgitated by the rest of the commentariat.

In many cases, concerns from principals and community members about value‐for‐money relate to a misunderstanding of the building standards Education Authorities are expected to adhere to in building education infrastructure. This was pointed out, for example, by the NSW Department of Education in its submission to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee Inquiry into BER P21:

It should be noted that local quotes are often found to be competitive with those obtained through the Managing Contractors’ tender processes. However, there have been instances where local quotes have been presented to the BER Program Office which at first glance appear far less costly than their estimates, but which on further examination did not represent value for money in terms of quality of the product required to meet the Schools’ Facilities Standards.220

It cites footnote 220 which reads:

NSW Government Submission to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee Inquiry into the ‘Primary Schools for the Twenty First Century’, p. 9. The department also noted: At Epping North Public School for example, a parent and builder on the [parents’ and citizens’ committee] indicated he could complete the building works cheaper than the managing contractor’s estimated price for a hall, [covered outdoor learning area] and canteen. The BER [integrated program office] arranged for the managing contractor to include this builder in the tender process. His quote was the most expensive option at well over $3 million for the project—or 50 per cent higher than his original claim.

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