SCHOOL Infrastructure NSW [SINSW] has focused on delivering existing projects, election commitments and other government announcements, which has "diverted attention from" identifying and delivering projects that would have better met student and classroom needs.
That's the verdict from the NSW Auditor General, which handed down the Delivering School Infrastructure audit and eight recommendations on Thursday.
The audit examined business cases for 12 projects.
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It found projects announced prior to developing a business case had less opportunity to consider a range of options to meet the service needs.
"Business cases for projects already announced by government (or announced for planning) go through the same process of determining the service need and impacts on surrounding schools," it said.
"However, for some announced projects, the range of options considered in the business case is influenced by the parameters of the announcement.
"This makes it more difficult to genuinely pursue alternate options that could better meet the identified service need. Projects identified by SINSW have a more rigorous process of considering options."
The Department of Education told the Newcastle Herald the final business case for the Newcastle Education Precinct - announced in June 2018 as including a new public school and an upgrade of Newcastle High - "is targeted for submission in mid-2021".
A department briefing from last November said there was "limited justification, based on demand, for a new primary school", but because the announcement was about a precinct "a number of options have been identified to address this requirement".
The preferred option was an integrated senior school for specific purpose.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the government had "gone on an 'announce first, work out details later' blitz".
"When that happens, as shown in this report, everyone loses - costs blowout, the department has to scramble to fit the announcement, and families don't get the schools and facilities for their kids that they were promised," he said.
"This is exactly what has happened in Newcastle with our new primary school announced before the numbers had been run, and through the documents we fought to have released, we now know that the department has had to make the city's needs fit the announcement, when it should be an announcement that fits our needs.
"A lot of this could be fixed if the Government focused more on the community and less on themselves and political spin.
"The lack of priorities within School Infrastructure's bid for their ongoing funding requirements is concerning.
"Current facilities are ageing, school populations are growing and in many places what we have is not fit for purpose - how does the department plan to spend the money without determining where they need to spend the money?"
SINSW was established in 2017 as a division of the department. with responsibility for planning, procurement, construction and maintenance of facilities.
The audit was intended to assess the effectiveness of planning and delivery of new, upgraded and redeveloped schools.
It examined whether the department had effective procedures for planning and prioritising capital works; develops robust business cases that reliably inform decision-making; and has effective governance and management systems.
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