Australian Treasury to supercharge engagement with academics; women’s health strategy for England unveiled: policy & delivery news in brief

By on 28/07/2022 | Updated on 28/07/2022
Australian Treasury secretary Stephen Kennedy says the government could do more to foster links between academics and the public service in a bid to improve policymaking

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Australian Treasury secretary calls for closer ties between public servants and academics

The federal Treasury aims to supercharge its engagement with the academic community by introducing an annual policy research conference and is considering implementing a visiting fellows programme whereby academics would work alongside analysts in the department.

The plans were revealed by Treasury secretary Stephen Kennedy, who said the government could do more to foster links between academics and the public service in a bid to improve policymaking.

He said policy development involved debates on the “pros and cons” and that evidence provided through academic research is key to “getting the balance right”.

Read more: Australian government appoints top official to lead public sector redesign

Kennedy also pointed to a programme for public servants offered by the Australian National University’s Sir Roland Wilson Foundation which has granted scholarships to 64 public servants across 23 agencies over the last decade. Twenty-six people have completed their studies “and are actively lifting the capability in the public service”, he said.

He added that public servants with academic training and advanced research and analytical skills played a vital role in making use of real-time data to “understand the evolution of the economic circumstances of the pandemic, notably in the two published reviews of the JobKeeper payment”.

Women’s health strategy for England unveiled in bid to tackle gender health gap

The UK government has published a Women’s Health Strategy for England which aims to tackle “deep-rooted, systemic issues” in healthcare to improve the wellbeing of women and girls.

The policy paper – informed by a call for evidence that received almost 100,000 responses – includes commitments to introduce mandatory women’s health-focused education and training for new doctors; improve fertility services and pregnancy loss support; update guidance on female-specific health conditions such as endometriosis; and expand related research and data gathering.

“When we launched our call for evidence to inform the publication of this strategy, women across the country set us a clear mandate for change,” Maria Caulfield, minister for women’s health, said. “Tackling the gender health gap will not be easy – there are deep-seated, systemic issues we must address to ensure women receive the same standards of care as men, universally and by default.”

The government acknowledged disparities in how men and women receive and experience healthcare and said the strategy would help to “reset how the health and care system listens to women”.

Read more: Northern Ireland launches menopause policy in drive to support staff

Among the policies outlined in the strategy, ‘one stop shop’ women’s health hubs will be expanded; additional funding will go towards breast cancer screening; barriers to female same-sex couples receiving IVF treatment will be removed; health professionals will receive guidance on how to treat patients who have suffered trauma such as domestic abuse; and a new policy research unit for reproductive health will be established.

“Women live on average for longer than men but spend more of their life in poor health, often limiting their ability to work and participate in day-to-day activities. Closing the gender health gap and supporting women to live well will not only benefit the health and wellbeing of women, but the health of the economy,” the government said.

UK Border Force ‘less than the sum of its parts’, review finds

A review of the UK Border Force has found that it is “stretching its resources in an unsustainable and highly inefficient way” and that despite a “dedicated, capable workforce”, it seems to be “less than the sum of its parts with significant systemic challenges”.

The independent review into how well prepared the Border Force is to deal with future challenges, which was commissioned by Home secretary Priti Patel in February, said the agency was performing at a “suboptimal level”.

The report said the Border Force “appears to be struggling to get out of a cycle of crisis management, reacting to the last challenge and bracing itself for the next, regardless of how predictable the next challenge may be”.

And added that there was “little capacity” for strategic planning or workforce development and that an inability to plan effectively “is further impacted by the delivery failures of enabling functions such as recruitment and procurement”.

“Steps should be taken to address the administrative issues that are continuing to distract the organisation so that it can focus on its core mission,” it said.

Recommendations by Alexander Downer, Australia’s former immigration minister – who undertook the review – include setting up a new advisory board; improving capability planning; a refreshed learning strategy and improved career pathways and training for staff through a Border Force Academy; and better equipping the Force to deliver its mission through workforce equity.

Downer said the Force is contending with “exceptional challenges” and that he hoped his recommendations would make it more resilient while providing it with “the direction needed to create improvements”.

The Home Office has also announced it is working on a project that would allow some passengers to enter the UK through ‘contactless’ digital border screening, rather than having to speak to a Border Force officer or use an e-gate.

Passengers suitable for contactless entry would instead be pre-screened and identified at the border using technology. The department aims to begin a pilot of the scheme in 2024.

The project is part of the New Plan for Immigration: Migration and Border Control Strategy, which outlines the direction of travel for the next three years and focuses on improving the customer journey as well as security.  

Patel said she was focused on ensuring the UK had a border “fit for the 21st century” and that she was “committed to ensuring our fantastic Border Force are given access to the most up to date technologies so they can use their specialised skills on protecting our border from those who seek to harm the UK”.

Estonia steps up virtual civil servant project

The Estonian government has called on tech experts from around the world to help develop its artificial intelligence-based virtual assistant, Bürokratt.

In what Estonia is calling a world first for the public sector, Bürokratt will allow citizens to apply for benefits, make payments, register a birth, file taxes, renew a passport and access other government services through Siri-like voice-based interaction.

Enabled by an interoperable network of AI applications, the digital assistant – which is accessible via mobile phone, tablet or laptop – was first announced in March 2020 and is currently being implemented after successful beta testing in 2021. It will officially go live later this year.

Read more: From mini-state to digital giant: Siim Sikkut on Estonia’s remarkable journey

As part of the next step of development, the Baltic nation is calling on software developers and data scientists, analysts and architects from countries belonging to the World Trade Organization to apply to be part of the project. It is particularly interested in those who specialise in language technology and machine learning.

“Having built and been recognised by the World Government Summit as the best AI-powered government service with Bürokratt, we are keen to improve the service even more, to provide citizens with more control over how their personal data is leveraged to access government services,” Ott Velsberg, Estonia’s chief data officer said.

“We look forward to welcoming a range of specialists to come and work with us and become part of one of the most technologically advanced government projects in Europe and contribute to the development of an AI government stack that benefits the whole of society.’’

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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