NSW in the firing line over school halls project

WERE the Building the Education Revolution projects run badly? Only in states where governments chose not to run them, according to new research published today that targets NSW and Victoria for special criticism.

The analysis by the left-leaning Centre for Policy Development finds the Labor governments in NSW and Victoria performed the worst on just about every measure when it came to handling the funds doled out during the 2008 financial crisis to build new school halls.

In contrast, the Liberal government in Western Australia and the Labor government in South Australia performed well.

Only 1 per cent of the projects in the smaller states received complaints compared to 8 per cent in NSW and 4 per cent in Victoria. The costs in the big states were $500 to $1500 per square metre higher.

The study says the big difference is that NSW and Victoria contracted out most of the management to big building firms. South Australia and Western Australia used public works departments to manage the projects themselves.

''Victoria really had no choice,'' the lead researcher, Tim Roxburgh, said. ''The cutbacks in the Kennett era had stripped the place of engineers and architects. NSW did have the capacity to manage its program itself but didn't bother.

''Governments need enough expertise to interact skilfully with the private sector in order to achieve value for money.''

The study finds a similar pattern in Catholic schools, which generally did well making use of in-house expertise. The exception was Sydney, where a large area was contracted out and built expensively.

''We only know the Building the Education projects because records were made public. We don't know about other projects in which NSW and Victoria are getting bad value for money because they have lost their expertise,'' Mr Roxburgh said.

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