In July 2012 the Department told Budget Estimates Hearings that it intended saving approximately $500, 000 per annum by reducing the numbers of prisoners attending a funeral. The Department representative said that funeral attendances had been a matter under consideration for some time and ‘the need for the savings generated the final decision’. In other words, the justification for the decision was purely financial.
However, despite making such claims, the Department has no discrete budget for funeral attendance. Nor does it have the capacity to readily identify the costs associated with attending funerals. Estimates are calculated on the costs associated with transport using the CS & CS contract.
Despite the matter being under consideration for some time, and a specific saving being nominated, the Department told the review team that it was in fact unable to determine the costs of funerals over the last five years. Put simply the Department has no evidence based way to determine whether the costs are changing or the extent of any changes, either in dollar terms or in terms of percentage of budget.
An additional complexity is that the Department’s 2011-12 Annual Report for the Provision of Court Security and Custodial Services specifically credited a saving of $500,000 in funerals costs to revisions in the CS & CS contract. This is simply inexplicable. The change in the contract upon which these savings were calculated was not due to take effect until 2012-2013 and the policy changes of September 2012 were only in the pipeline.
The evidence provided to this review indicated that in January 2012, the previous Commissioner’s Executive Team was provided with an estimated cost for funeral attendance and visits to dangerously ill relatives for the 2010-11 financial year. The costs were estimated at $1.157 million. The estimated cost comprised only of the escort to the funeral and did not include the transfer costs of moving a prisoner to the closest custodial facility.
At the request of the Office, the Department approximated the cost for funeral attendances in 2011-2012 at $567,655 for 421 people to be transported to funerals by Serco. The remaining 24 per cent of services provided by the Department last financial year were not included in these costs and did not appear to have been costed.
The costings for 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 are clearly neither accurate, nor comparable. They indicate the Department has made a 50 per cent saving (almost $590,000) between 2010-11 and 2011-12, even though the number of people attending funerals fell by only 10 per cent.
The figures, if accurate, would also mean that in order to meet the Department’s proposed $500,000 savings in 2012-2013, the Department would need to further slash funeral costs from $570,000 to $70,000 (an 85 per cent cut).
In response to questions from the review team, the Department confirmed that the numbers provided to their Executive Team in January 2012 and subsequently to this Office are unlikely to be accurate. They were invited to, but unable to, provide accurate updated figures.
In summary, the situation is confusing. Deliberately or otherwise, it is also grossly misleading. First, the Department has claimed that it will achieve cost savings of around $500,000 in 2012-2013 without having the ability to determine the actual costs of funeral attendance or to measure the effects of any cost savings measures. Secondly, it has claimed that it has already achieved a $500,000 saving in the 2011-2012 prior to any of the measures designed to reduce costs actually being implemented.