Financial sustainability planning in a government agency setting

Today’s post is a visit to my day-job, working as Manager Financial Strategy in the Queensland Department of Education and Training (DET).

My role with the department began in early 2011, with the task of thinking about what ‘financial sustainability’ means within a government agency setting and how this could be implemented and articulated through a Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP).

Six years later and I think we’ve almost cracked it in the latest DET LTFP 2017-21.

Initial investigations looked at many and varied financial planning frameworks in the private and local government settings. However, in all these settings there is an element of fiscal governance which does not apply in a government agency setting – the ability to autonomously increase fees and charges, sell assets and/or raise debt. In government, these things are done at a whole-of-government level rather than individual agency level.

This key difference makes it challenging  to even define ‘financial sustainability’ in a government agency setting, let alone plan and monitor progress toward such a goal.

The DET LTFP 2017-21 is based around three financial goals over which the department does have control and which can be measured to some degree. The goals are:

  • Efficiency and value – Cost-effective services that support the department’s
    strategic agenda
  • Revenue assurance – A sustainable funding base supported by strategic partnerships
  • Strong resource management – Enhanced ability to predict and plan for budget priorities and risks.

The LTFP is updated annually as the department seeks to ensure $9 billion-plus per annum of Queensland taxpayers’ funding is invested effectively and efficiently on state schools, early childhood education and training services.

The LTFP supplements the department’s Strategic Plan rather than being a peak document in its own right. This is as it should be: evidence suggests that financial resources are a necessary but not sufficient condition for improving educational investment. As some pundits say, ‘it’s not how much you spend but how you spend it’. Never a truer word spoken.