The Gershon report's recommendation for the Federal Government to reduce its reliance on ICT contractors was based on flawed data, according to ITCRA, an organisation which represents Australian technology recruiters.
ITCRA yesterday said the Gershon report got it all wrong when it found that Canberra suffered from an "over-reliance" on ICT contractors. The Gershon report recommended the government reduce the amount of ICT contractors working in the public service by 50 per cent.
Norman Lacy, executive director of ITCRA, says Gershon provided no evidence of such over-reliance.
Sir Peter Gershon and Lindsay Tanner.
(Credit: Brian Hartigan)
Lacy was particularly bitter the government-appointed cost-cutting panel did not approach ICTRA to get better data on the skills scenario. ICTRA would have provided the numbers, he said, provided the government was prepared to pay for it.
ICTRA runs SkillsMatch, a database that connects into the back-end of all of Australia's major recruiters to provide a national view of supply and demand for ICT skills. The Howard Government (under the previous DCITA department) paid $220,000 to build the national system, which prior to federal investment was a state-based initiative run by ICTRA and Multimedia Victoria.
However, after the systems' development and a successful six-month trial, ICTRA began asking the Federal Government for $200,000 per annum to access the systems' data. The government (DCITA, DEWR and AGIMO, according to Lacy) all baulked at the price and chose not to continue to support the system. Instead, ICTRA and Multimedia Victoria have opted to foot the maintenance bill and use the data for their own purposes.
Lacy claimed that the government defined what data they desired to be collected during the build of the system and "raved about" its output during its trial.
"The very purpose of building this system was for the government to have better data," he said. "It is alarming that the government spent money to build this system, which has been giving us reliable information for 18 months, but hasn't asked for data from it for this [Gershon] report."
He admits that ITCRA's interest was for the government to pay for the data the organisation has collected: "That was the basis of doing this exercise in the first place."
ICTRA is now prepared to give some of that data for free, at least in the form of a press release. Based on a sample of 9,000 placements in SkillsMatch, the average price of a contractor in Australia's public sector should be more like $129,072 rather than the $180,000 figure the Gershon report came up with.
"The government needs to be aware of what the market rate is," Lacy said.
Lacy said he was aware that arguing for cheaper labour "is against the interests of ITCRA members", but he feels it is more important the government becomes aware that "they are paying too much".
He said Gershon's assertion that the government "over-relies" on contractors compared to the private sector "flies in the face of the truth".
"They under-rely, in fact. The private sector uses ICT contractors for a greater proportion of its work. The private sector is around 35 per cent in ICT and 28 per cent for the whole market, ICT contractors in Canberra make up 23 per cent. And the government wants to cut that back to 12 per cent."
"Gershon admits that he could only get the best information he could, and that there were gaps in data going back to 2002. He hasn't collected the information needed to do the report. Relying on ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) stats, you are always going to be a year behind."
Lacy considered Gershon's recommendations to be "discriminatory" toward contractors, a group the ALP Government promised support prior to being elected.
"It is inconceivable that a government could turn around and reduce opportunities for contractors to work in the public sector," he said.