Part 3: Responding better

Ministry for Primary Industries: Preparing for and responding to biosecurity incursions - follow-up report.

In this Part, we discuss:

Our recommendations about responding better

In our 2013 report, we made two recommendations about responding better. We recommended that the Ministry:

  • make contracting simpler, faster, and more efficient for response partners, and consider the use of a panel contract arrangement for procuring response services from Crown research institutes; and
  • make changes to the Biosecurity Response Services contract and the National Biosecurity Capability Network to reflect its new organisational structure and operating environment.

Summary of our findings

The Ministry has put in place some important new and updated arrangements so that it is in a better position to respond collectively with its partners. The 2015 fruit fly response is an example of how the improvements have helped the Ministry to respond better. This shows improvements in the relationship between the Ministry and AsureQuality. We saw the first example of the industry partners being involved in governance.

Making contracting simpler

The Ministry has simplified its Biosecurity Response Services contract with its main response partner (AsureQuality) and continues to iron out remaining complexities in the contract when they arise.

In November 2013, the Ministry reviewed and amended the Biosecurity Response Services contract. It is considering further refinements, with a view to clarifying pricing clauses. The Ministry and AsureQuality have agreed to review the Biosecurity Response Services contract every year.

To improve the Biosecurity Response Services contract, the Ministry has:

  • updated it to reflect the Ministry's new operating environment;
  • been more specific about what it expects of AsureQuality;
  • simplified the pricing structure;
  • reworded and simplified complex paragraphs;
  • clarified roles and responsibilities; and
  • removed ambiguities.

Contract panel arrangements

In our 2013 report, we recommended that the Ministry make contracting simpler, faster, and more efficient for response partners and consider using a panel contract arrangement for procuring response services from Crown research institutes.

The Ministry considered using a contract panel arrangement for procuring response services from Crown research institutes but concluded that such an arrangement was not appropriate because:

  • Crown research institutes offer services that are so diverse that the scope of a contract panel would probably be too large and difficult to manage;
  • Crown research institutes account for only 12% of spending on response services; and
  • having a panel contract arrangement for response services might be detrimental to contractors that are not Crown research institutes.

The Ministry has adopted a panel arrangement for surveillance work, but this is not part of the Ministry's response work.

Customising contracting arrangements for response services

The Ministry has master agreements with several Crown research institutes. When the Ministry contracts with a Crown research institute, it prefers to use terms and conditions agreed in the master agreements.

When there is a response, AsureQuality will contact a National Biosecurity Capability Network member for help. A standard employment contract that sets out pay rates and costs will be signed. This contract will be for that response only. We did not review these contracts, because we did not audit AsureQuality as part of our follow-up audit.

Some response partners insist on contracting directly with the Ministry. The Ministry is flexible with this. For example, the Ministry had six different memorandums of understanding with Maritime New Zealand. It now has one main memorandum of understanding, with the other memorandums attached as schedules.

Strengthening the National Biosecurity Capability Network

This Ministry is continually improving the National Biosecurity Capability Network and reviewing improvements. The network is now more able to fulfil its objective of allowing the required capability to be called on when needed.

Improvements made to the National Biosecurity Capability Network include the Ministry's permanently appointing a manager to work closely with AsureQuality to oversee the preparing, strengthening, and testing of the network, and build relationships with members. The Ministry has increased the membership of the National Biosecurity Capability Network, with a focus on the quality, not quantity, of members. The National Biosecurity Capability Network now includes 149 organisations and has more than 60,000 individual members.

Every year, as part of the Biosecurity Response Services contract, AsureQuality tests the quality of the data in the National Biosecurity Capability Network system and the availability of participants.

However, some complexities, such as standardising rates, need to be worked through. The Ministry told us that one project in the Biosecurity Response Services 2015/16 business plan is to complete research about standardising commercial rates for deploying organisations in a response.

This is a large task because of the need to identify operational expert roles and "ground-level" roles, such as labouring roles, and identify rates for the appropriate skills. This was one of the priority improvements identified in the 2015 fruit fly response that could make contracting at short notice more efficient.

New Zealand is the only country to have a system such as the National Biosecurity Capability Network. The 2015 fruit fly response provides a good example of the network working in practice. Ninety-three National Biosecurity Capability Network members were mobilised within the first 72 hours of the response.

Working with Government Industry Agreement partners

We discussed Government Industry Agreements in our 2013 report. However, we did not assess it because it did not come into effect until July 2013. We did not specifically look at the Government Industry Agreement in this follow-up audit. However, we have received some information about industry partners signing up to take part in responses.

We understand that, from 1 July 2017, responses will have a cost-sharing agreement as part of the Government Industry Agreement with the industry partners. This will save money and is part of working towards the idea of a co-ordinated national approach to biosecurity.

We have observed the Ministry's efforts to induct Government Industry Agreement partners into the response process to prepare for the response cost-sharing agreements. The Government Industry Agreement is intended to add industry knowledge to readiness and response work, build networks and capability, and promote forward-thinking.

The response to the 2015 fruit fly incursion was the first time Government Industry Agreement industry partners were involved on a response governance board as decision-makers for a major response. The feedback from industry has been largely positive. The cost-sharing agreements do not come into effect until 2017. However, involving industry partners now allows relationships to build and strengthen before the agreements come into full force.