Can’t get no satisfaction

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
7 September, 2018

Every two years, Treasury surveys stakeholders about Treasury’s performance. The 2015 survey was up on Treasury’s website about two months after it was completed. The 2017 survey was completed last August but still had not shown up on Treasury’s website a year later.

I had a pretty good idea why they were sitting on it. The parts of the report I had had the chance to see were not laudatory.

This week, Treasury responded to my OIA request for a copy of the full report and their reasons for not previously making it available. Treasury said they had planned on releasing the report only after having put in place measures to improve things.

The case for improvement is pretty obvious. Economists are now in the minority among Treasury analysts and recent junior hiring rounds have not been boosting Treasury’s economics capabilities. Ratings on the quality of Treasury’s advice have been declining every year. Internal surveys suggest diminishing depth of expertise.

Then there’s the now-released 2017 external stakeholder survey.

Among those people interacting with Treasury about its core business of economics, macroeconomics, and fiscal projection, satisfaction dropped from 70% in 2015 to 47% in 2017. The proportion of stakeholders viewing Treasury staff as well-informed dropped significantly, as did overall confidence that staff do a good job, that Treasury challenges thinking on critical issues, and that Treasury can offer insights.

One highlighted survey response noted that “Treasury staff are personally a pleasure to work with, but they don’t have a strong background in economic analysis.” It is no particular surprise that lifting the quality of staff was near the top of the list of things stakeholders wanted Treasury to focus on.

The August survey results were reported to the Executive Leadership Team in November 2017 and discussed in February 2018. This week’s letter from Treasury says they are working on building economic capabilities through measures like training existing staff and through recruitment.

When Treasury would have released the Stakeholder survey, barring being prodded, is anyone’s guess. Only four of fifteen hired by Treasury in the 2019 graduate recruitment round had at least Honours-level training in economics and finance; I doubt that counts as addressing the concerns raised in the survey.

The consequences of Treasury’s failed experiment in de-emphasising economics will be felt for a long time. Treasury needs again to be the place where top economics graduates want to work.

Treasury's response to our OIA request is available here. 

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