Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘public services’

Consultants for core administrative tasks?

Posted by on January 10th, 2013

Back in 2008 the then National opposition made two ‘key’ pledges when it came to public services. The first was to ‘cap but not cut’ the number of public servants, and the second was to ‘move resources from the back office to the frontline’. They didn’t keep either promise, but more importantly, evidence is increasingly emerging that their approach to public service provision is costing the taxpayer more, not less.

National’s cap on public service numbers has led to a blowout in consultancy costs, as government agencies continue to deal with the same, or in many cases greater, workloads with fewer people on board to do the work.

Take the Ministry of Education for example. This week I released data that shows they’ve been engaging expensive consultants to undertake core administrative tasks like processing official information requests, drafting ministerial documents, and writing business cases. I’ve got no problem with departments bring in outside expertise when a particular set of skills are required, but this is bread and butter stuff any department the size of the Ministry of Education should be able to deal with.

Between 2008 and 2011 ten of the biggest government departments spent a whopping $910 million on consultants and contractors between them. Those same agencies spent $114 million making people redundant during the same period. Increasingly anecdotal evidence is emerging of former employees being engaged as consultants to do the work they used to do for a lot less when they were employees.

National’s consultancy culture isn’t saving us money, it’s costing us more. It’s also leading to an erosion of the core capability of the public service, and some of the haphazard decisions ministers are making, often based on weak advice, reflect that.

Our democratic system relies on there being a quality public service with the expertise and capability to deliver on the priorities of the government of the day, whomever that may be. That includes the capability to deliver advice the government of the day might not like. Under National, that capability is being seriously eroded.

National = 0800 hold and wait

Posted by on August 21st, 2012

If the current government are really serious about reducing compliance costs for small business, they could start by getting the IRD call centre into shape. Statistics that I released today make for damning reading. Here are a few highlights:

  • Last year over a million callers to IRD numbers gave up before their call had even been answered
  • A further 260,000 callers ditched their calls after being placed on hold
  • The longest wait time for a call to the IRD was 2 hours and 29 minutes
  • Over 200,000 callers waited for over quarter of an hour to have their call answered

National is always talking about productivity, but how does having people waiting for hours on end to speak to the IRD help with that? Millions of dollars are being lost every day as Kiwis sit around waiting for the IRD to pick up the phone.

In the past four years the IRD has dished out over $31 million in redundancy payments. Clearly that’s having an impact on its customer service record. It’s time for the National government to get this mess sorted out.

$12 million on redundancy, more to come

Posted by on August 20th, 2012

The fact that the various entities being merged to form Steven Joyce’s new ‘mega ministry’ had already spent over $12 million on redundancy payments under National, even before the latest merger gets underway clearly highlights the unnecessary cost of ad-hoc restructuring.

The two agencies that merged to form the Ministry for Science and Innovation spent over $1.6 million on redundancies as a result of that move, now they’re being restructured again. The Ministry of Economic Development spent $4.2 million on redundancy over the past 3 years, while their spending on consultants and contractors during that same period of time exploded, rising from $6.7 million to $19.2 million per year.

National’s public sector restructuring has been characterised by ad-hocism and empire building, rather than a coherent plan for delivering better services to Kiwis and businesses. The fact that the creation of MoBIE will mean a second or even third round of restructuring for some of the employees involved underscores how shambolic National’s approach has been.

Rather than constantly shuffling people around, laying them off and then hiring them back as contractors, and wasting money on slick PR campaigns, the government should be focused on how they can deliver better public services to New Zealanders.

The consultancy blowout

Posted by on May 19th, 2012

The explosion in the cost of consultants and contractors over the last 5 years clearly shows that the National government have failed to live up their promise of a more efficient public service focused on the frontline. Between 2006/07 and 2010/11 the total spend on consultants and contractors leapt from $336 million to $525 million, the biggest leap coming in National’s first year in office when they imposed their arbitrary ‘cap’ on the number of staff the public service can employ.

National’s arbitrary cap on staff numbers has caused this blowout in consultants and contractors costs, plain and simple. They’re not delivering more efficient public services, in fact quite the opposite – Kiwis are paying more to get less. It can’t possibly be more efficient to make someone redundant one day and then reengage them on consultants rates only a few days later, as we’re now seeing happen throughout the public sector.

National’s supposed drive for greater efficiency in the public service has failed miserably. They’ve failed to adequately monitor the effect of their cuts, failed to stop cost blowouts in other areas, and failed to live up to their promise of a more efficient and effective public service. The consultancy culture has gotten so out of hand under National that Bill English’s own department, the Treasury, even hired a consultant to write a review on the use of consultants.

In these tight economic times, Kiwis want to know that the government is spending their tax dollar wisely. A more efficient and effective public service should be a major priority for any government. National has failed to deliver it.

Consultants and contractors

Posted by on April 11th, 2012

Keith Ng has been digging around the issue of government use of consultants. He’s unearthed some stats that show the use of consultants within the public service has increased under National, despite their promise to bring greater efficiency to public services.

This was inevitably going to be one of the consequences of National’s arbitrary ‘cap’ on the number of people employed by the public service. If government departments aren’t allowed to employ new staff, but still have to do the same amount of work, or in some cases even more, what will they do? They’ll contract the labour in, and it looks like that’s what’s happening.

As Danya Levy’s story on Stuff reminds us, last month the Defence force had to admit that it had rehired two Navy staff just weeks after making them redundant after it was unable to fill their roles. The more arbitrary cuts National inflicts, the more of this we’re going to see.

I’ve blogged before that I support a greater focus on efficiency and outcomes within the public service, but the National government are doing things back to front. They’re too focused on what they can cut and what they can sell, rather than reviewing what they actually want the public service to deliver. That’s where there attention should be focused.

Reflections on Key’s speech

Posted by on March 15th, 2012

John Key’s speech this afternoon focused on three things: setting yet another set of targets, lowering the cap on the number of people employed in the public service, and creating a new ‘super-ministry’. A few thoughts on each before some more general observations.

1. Setting targets for the public service

It’s a good thing to set clearer targets for the public service, but Ministers can’t abdicate all responsibility by placing all the onus on departments to achieve them. Ministers set the budgets, sign-off the strategies and plans, and have a huge amount of say over the directions the public service will take when seeking to achieve those targets. They are still responsible. We also need to recognise that some of the targets we set will have long lead-times. For example, getting more 18 year olds with at least NCEA Level 2 starts when those very same kids are 2 and 3 years old, if not before.

2. Capping the core public service at a lower level

As I’ve noted before, this is an ‘input’ measure and cuts against John Key’s stated intention of focusing the public service on ‘outcomes’. It’s also pretty arbitrary and can lead to unintended consequences. For example, if a govt agency needs to take on new people in order to deliver on one of the outcome goals, but they’re up against their quota of staff, they could end up hiring external contractors or ‘outsourcing’ at a higher price than they could deliver the same outcome for internally if they didn’t face such an arbitrary constraint.

3. Creation of a new ‘super-ministry’

Restructuring is often seen as something you do when you don’t have a clear sense of what you’re trying to achieve but want to look like you’re ‘doing something’. I agree with what John Key said “Few problems are solved by significant reorganisations – in fact, many more tend to be created. It is easy to underestimate the amount of energy and inspiration soaked up by institutional change, as well as the loss of personal and institutional knowledge”. Shame he didn’t stick to that.

The public service can continually be sliced and diced in the never-ending search for ‘natural synergies’ but what we should really be focused on is getting the whole of government working more effectively together. Constant uncertainty and restructuring doesn’t achieve that.

So overall impressions? We’ve seen enough action plans, strategies, and targets from National. This latest list follows on from the six-point plan in 2010, the revised six-point plan in 2011 with 41 actions, and 2012’s 120-point plan. Time to start making some progress. About the only ‘progress’ they can point to so far is more people out of work.

Then and now: Key on all sorts

Posted by on March 14th, 2012

Over the weekend I posted some of John Key’s earlier statements on asset sales and public sector restructuring, pointing out how much his current views and approach differ from what he promised people before he became Prime Minister.

Tonight TV3 have gone one better and unearthed video footage of him speaking to the PSA Conference back in September 2008. Not only does John Key rule out asset sales, he makes a compelling case against them.

“There’ll be no asset sales in the first term of a National government, and there may never be asset sales in the years ahead… Nor am I hell-bent on selling assets actually. I personally think it’s not the issue that the current economy faces. In the world of making the boat go faster, actually I don’t think selling off state assets is going to make the boat go faster.

Labour has been arguing all along that asset sales will not make us a richer country. We’ve been consistent. John Key and the National government have done a complete u-turn and have now placed asset sales at the centre of their economic strategy.

“The Crown’s dividend streams from the Meridians, the Mighty Rivers of the world is large, so on both motivations we don’t have a debt problem, they’re acting, I think, highly effectively as companies, and they’re making money. There is no motivation to sell assets.

Once again, Key is borrowing the line that Labour has been consistently arguing for over a decade. The SOEs are highly profitable. They make more money than we would save in debt repayment costs if we sold them. Also note Key arguing we don’t have a debt problem (Bill English also made similar comments both before and after the 08 election). Interesting how after 3 years of a National government debt seems to be the biggest issue we face…

“So there’s no agenda to sell assets.

This is perhaps the most damning quote. Although Key was careful before the 2008 election to qualify his no asset sales pledge with “during the first term” he gave New Zealanders the very clear impression that he wouldn’t be selling assets long-term either.

“What we are saying is we’re not going to cut jobs, we’re simply capping at 36,000.

That commitment didn’t even last a term. Now he’s promising even more job losses during National’s second term. Nothing about that in their manifesto for 2011.

“The second point is, no we’re not borrowing for tax cuts.

So if they’re not borrowing for tax cuts, and New Zealand didn’t have a debt problem when they took office, why are they now arguing we have a major debt problem and need to sell assets to fix it?

John Key has built his political career on telling people what they want to hear. Eventually that strategy always catches up with people, and it’s catching up with Key big-time.

Massive structural change not worth candle

Posted by on March 13th, 2012

I was Minister of State Services from 1999 – 2005. Did some pretty big changes. Education, MSD and MED. Along the way I lost faith in the power of structural change to either release funds or improve services.

Change always took longer than we planned. Two years to implement and another two to bed in. It was always accompanied by a drop in morale and productivity.

Important skills and institutional knowledge were lost.

Some of the best people left with very expensive redundancy packages only to be rehired on contract at 150% of their former rate or left for Australia where they got 200%.

I now think it is better to have a longer term vision, make changes at the margins and focus on sharing as many services as possible.

Then and now: Key on public services

Posted by on March 10th, 2012

Yesterday I blogged about John Key’s pre-election promises about asset sales and pointed out how the post-election reality falls well short of his earlier rhetoric. Key’s pre-election promises on public services back in 2008 paint an even starker contrast. What National promised and what they’ve been doing are polar opposites.

“A new National Government is not going to radically reorganise the structure of the public sector…..Few problems are solved by significant reorganisations – in fact, many more tend to be created.  It is easy to underestimate the amount of energy and inspiration soaked up by institutional change, as well as the loss of personal and institutional knowledge.” (John Key, speech to PSA Congress, September 2008)

I’m not sure the staff at MFAT, where one on four could end up out of a job, would agree that isn’t radical restructuring. Under National, multiple agencies have been merged, over 2,500 jobs have been lost, regional offices have been closed, and now Key is promising even more to come.

“So let me reiterate National’s position.  We are in no way going to reduce the number of frontline staff.  Let me make this absolutely clear – under National the numbers of doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, police and other frontline staff will grow.” (John Key, speech to PSA Congress, September 2008)

In the past few weeks we’ve seen DHBs talking about laying off medical professionals because of under-funding, education officials talking about bigger class sizes so that we employ fewer teachers, police being told they have to make massive savings, closure of frontline regional offices (eg. Housing NZ), and the replacement of frontline consular services overseas with an 0800 number.

“In additional (sic) to upholding the professionalism of the public service, we are also going to uphold its political neutrality….There has to be a clear line drawn between the political role of the Government and professional independence of the public service.” (John Key, speech to PSA Congress, September 2008)

I’m not sure how John Key appointing his own local National Party electorate chairman to broadcasting funding agency NZ on Air lives up to this commitment, particularly given said chairman’s role in deciding which political documentaries got funding in the lead-up to the general election.

“The New Zealand government is in a sound fiscal position.  We can afford to protect the vulnerable and maintain social services….”  (John Key, speech to PSA Congress, September 2008)

Quick, somebody tell Bill English. According to Key, NZ’s books were in good shape when they took office. Of course, having flushed our sound economic position down the toilet they’re now trying to blame the previous Labour govt, who paid back the debt and left the books in good shape.

Getting public sector reform right

Posted by on March 4th, 2012

In the past few days a few more details have started to emerge about National’s plans for further cuts to the public service. It’s been interesting to note how the current rhetoric emanating from the top floors of the Beehive hasn’t been matched by the reality so far.

As Andrea Vance reports, despite putting over 2,500 people out of work, National’s bold plan to save $1billion over 3 years has come up short, with only $20m in savings actually realised.

In my view, the National government have got the whole process around the wrong way. There is room for improvement in the way our public services are delivered, and we should start by asking how that can happen, rather than starting by asking how much we can cut.

I tend to agree with Colin James, who has argued that greater efficiency should be a flow on effect of greater effectiveness, not the other way around.

John Key talked only of efficiency at a recent press conference in which he discussed the “better public services” programme. He did not mention effectiveness… But in the real world where people, not equations, live, efficiency is an ingredient of effectiveness, which is the translation of outputs into recognisable, measurable — and desired– outcomes. Better public services will be better only if they are effective. John Key didn’t make a good start.

National started off entirely on the wrong foot three years ago. Then they weren’t focused on outcomes or even outputs. They were focused on ‘inputs’ in the form of staffing numbers, rather than worrying about what those staff actually do/did.

What we should be asking is what New Zealanders expect from their public services and how that can best be delivered. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement, and again I agree with Colin James:

[There is now] an expectation now that goods and services will be custom-made and so the means of access to them and delivery of them be customised. This expectation has been building for two or three decades as technology and globalisation have enabled a transition from mass production to mass customisation. Particularly younger people have that expectation. Fordism is long dead in the private sector and is dying in the public sector. The factory state was time-bound in the twentieth century.

Reform in the public sector is necessary and should be a positive thing, but we need to start by asking the right questions. Focusing on inputs and outputs, rather than the outcomes we want our public service to achieve sets any reform agenda up for failure before it’s even started.

Abandoning the Provinces (again)

Posted by on September 9th, 2011

The National led government released its latest public service staff statistics yesterday. They show that they have overseen almost 2,400 Kiwis losing their jobs since 2008. That is thousands of families with people who make the money to put food on the table out of work. Things really are starting to follow the 1990s pattern- the gutting of the public sector, followed by the decline in services and confidence from the public, followed by the hiring of consultants and contractors to fill the gaps…

The figures announced today do not cover the full impact most recent jobs losses announced for DOC and the IRD. In both cases its not the people I look after in Wellington Central bearing the brunt, it is the provinces. Wanganui, Rotorua, Napier, Invercargill, Nelson, New Plymouth. Did someone say “frontline services”.

Two stories related to this came my way today. The first from the Daily News in New Plymouth who quoted one of the staff saying that they had been warned that if they talked publicly about the job losses they would go even quicker.

“They told us there was to be absolutely no discussion of anything to the media. If anyone spoke to the media it could be a code of conduct issue,” an employee told the Taranaki Daily News on condition of anonymity. Penalties for breaching the code of conduct could include being sacked, they said.

The worker also said something that will be familiar to many in the public service. He said “morale was in tatters”. It is, in almost every government agency I speak to- and the end result of that is poorer services for us all.

Meanwhile over in Whanganui they are facing the effect of the cuts to the Department of Conservation, the latest in a line of cuts including to NZTA, child advocacy services and the baliffs. I got a note passed on to me from a local teacher who said

I feel awful today as I hear from children I teach that their their families will be shifting out of Wanganui because of the cutbacks and the gutting of the local DOC office.which once served the region from Taranaki to the Manawatu and over the Ruahines. Going are the scientists, an engineer, cartographers and other skilled workers whose children have been really special to teach.

This is one aspect of the abandoning of provinicial New Zealand, the breakdown of communities. Another is the loss of health services in places like Temuka and Rangiora. John Pagani has written a good blog on another aspect of it. The absence of any real focused regional development from this government that will give people a sense that there are jobs and a future for them and their town. I think we owe these towns that have been the backbone of our country some support and some hope.

Policy Advice Review-Perpetuating the Myths

Posted by on April 29th, 2011

Forgive me for this I told you so moment, but it infuriates me. To recap. Last year the government announced a review of policy advice. This was the one where Bill English claimed an alternative was to look on websites for policy, the “government by google” approach.

The announcement of the review came complete with the usual hyping up of Labour’s record on public services.

Between 2003 and 2009, total Government spending on policy advice across all ministries, departments and agencies is estimated to have jumped by more than 70 per cent from about $510 million to $880 million. “This is faster than the already rapid general increase in total Government spending during this period,” Finance Minister Bill English says. “The amount spent on policy advice is now nearly three quarters of the Government’s total annual police budget and it almost matches our annual spending on social housing.

At the time I raised concerns about the “estimate” of spending on policy advice being based, according to the Terms of Reference for the review, on

appropriation data from Budget data files gained by searching on the terms ‘policy’ and ‘policies’ in the title field

Terrific attention to detail there. And now that the report has been produced the Dominion Post reports

At the time the review was announced, the Government claimed policy spending had risen from $510 million in 2003 to $880m in 2009. However, the review – led by former Treasury secretary Graham Scott – found that most of the increase was spent on non-policy-related activities. Excluding the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, overall spending actually declined slightly in real terms over the period.

That’s right, with one exception, spending on policy advice went down in real terms. National has spent a lot of time going on about how Labour increased the back office at the expense of so-called frontline services. But their own report, by the former ACT candidate Graham Scott, finds this is not true.

Will we hear a retraction or apology from Bill English? No, he glosses over it as an estimate, despite making such a big deal of it at the time.

I welcome finding ways of improving policy advice to government, but it is not ok just to make things up that suit the myths you want to spread.

The state of our services

Posted by on April 25th, 2011

A curious little article has appeared today quoting State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie. Curious for a couple of reasons. First, the whole thing sounds like a political statement rather than that from a public servant. I certainly accept that public services will change the way they deliver services over the next few years, and we all welcome efficiencies in the public service. But his certainty about “the next five years” (why five years?) is also curious. The part of the statement about a reduction in the number of agencies is the direction of the current government, but it looks at public services the wrong way round from my point of view. We should be looking at the kind of services we want and need, and then considering how they are best delivered, not having a fixed view about the number of agencies going into that.

The article notes that SSC itself is safe “at this stage”. There are many wondering if it does have a future, with the future shape of the public sector being driven elsewhere. The overall strategic direction is coming from Treasury. The IT services are now with the Department of Internal Affairs, and procurement initiatives are being driven by MED. SSC is limited to the employment of Chief Executives as its main function.

I actually think this is a bad thing for public services. Treasury’s role is important in terms of fiscal discipline, but the agenda of quality public services needs someone to balance the power of Treasury. We have seen in past decades that an over powerful Treasury can wreck havoc if there is not some balance in the system. In its current state SSC does not look much like that organisation, but some competition of ideas in terms of the future development of public services is vital to their future health.

Why select committees are worth it

Posted by on October 13th, 2010

Today I had a real privilege at select committee. We were hearing submissions on the government’s bill to, among other things, merge Archives NZ and the National Library into the Department of Internal Affairs. Now, sometimes hearing submissions, while great for the democratic process, can be tough going. But not today. We heard from some of foremost former public servants; a former Chief Archivist, a former Parliamentary Librarian, plus people who care about Archives and Library and give their time to support them.

Their submissions were coherent, passionate, challenging and had practical suggestions for changes to a Bill that they all oppose in principle. Have a listen to the piece from Checkpoint today (at 18.54)

The key message we got was that the Bill and the proposed structure that will see the Chief Archivist and National Librarian as third tier managers at DIA will undermine the indepdendence of these key constitutional and democratic institutions. This is not just opinion. Archives was part of DIA in the 1990s, and the Chief Archivist at that time told us today that he had little influence over decisions and wasted a huge amount of time trying to be heard internally.

There is more to come on this issue next week, but the government has just plain got this one wrong. There is no justification for the change in terms of savings, or improved quality of service. The only reason seems to be to reduce the number of government agencies. The problem is these are agencies that are doing a good job and are well supported in their community.

The Treasury Board and the agenda for public services

Posted by on September 2nd, 2010

Sometimes its hard to get across why some of the more seemingly mundane announcements made by government are important.  The idea that the Treasury has decided to create a Board to help run it might sound good. Get a bit of outside help in to make sure it is doing the right thing. Nothing wrong with that?

But when the Treasury Secretary John Whitehead slipped into a speech ten days ago that he was going to establish a “governance” Board with representatives of the “private sector” alarm bells rang for me.

Firstly, in the context of purchase advisors, politically appointed working groups on everything from tax to regulation, welfare to housing, a review of policy advice  led by Graham Scott, the role of Murray Horn leading the National Health Board, this Board, and Tony Ryall’s enthusiasm that it could be used by the rest of the public sector this is clearly part of  an agenda to fundamentally change our public sector.  That change amounts to a privatisation of advice.

Why does this matter?  It matters because our system of government is based on the idea that the public service will provide free and frank advice to Ministers. They are in effect the taxpayers representatives in making and implementing policy and ensuring the governments get the best advice possible. Privatising advice undermines that assumption of neutrality.  Those Ministers are then responsible to Parliament and the public. Handpicked policy and governance groups can lead to governments hearing what they want to hear and to reducing accountability.  And that will be bad for all of us in the long run.

If people think I am over dramatising this- take a look at the media release from Treasury yesterday.  The role of the Board is described as “setting the strategic direction” for Treasury.  John Whitehead has said he will only veto the group in ‘extremely rare’ circumstances.

Chris Eichbaum has a great article in the Dom Post today on this issue (not on-line as far as I can tell). As he says

We need responsive and responsible public servants. Injecting a new third element into our existing governance arrangements may well be a step too far. It is most certainly the kind of proposal that should be the subject of public scruitiny and debate- not just announced.

As Chris is alluding to, the process for establishing the Board is not good. There are no terms of reference, and we only have the vaguest idea of how they will work.  Again John Whitehead said after his speech ten days ago that  the Board will have “community and private sector” expertise.  No sign of the community sector in the Board members announced yesterday.  No sign of a voice for the vulnerable people who are most effected by Treasury’s policies.

I am certainly not against government agencies getting advice from the community and stakeholders.  In fact I strongly support a closer connection between agencies and the people who use services.  But not when it undermines the neutrality of public services and not when it is used to reinforce the agenda of one political party.

The role of public health

Posted by on August 19th, 2010

My good friend Dr Ayesha Verrall has written a really interesting post over at Policy Progress on the appropriate role for the public health system. Ayesha argues that the public health system exists not just to care for the sick, we should also view health as an investment and as a social determinant.

In terms of investment we need to see the value of a healthy population and workforce. Health is a public good and we should see the benefits of health care to our wider society that are far wider than simply ameliorating suffering. Health as a social determinant  looks at the linkages between health and other factors such as socio-economc status, social isolation and so forth.

Ayesha advocates a greater focus on preventative health care, but also points out how this can challenge the agreed role of the state:

“…different approaches to health care may prioritise treatment on the basis of need (the most sick), or treatment based on ability to benefit (often less sick) through to prevention (not sick at all). In extending the scope of the health system to prevention, one intervenes in the lives of the healthy. Those the subject of preventive medicine aren’t sick, don’t feel sick and may not agree with authorities that it is worth their while participating. As progressives seek to do more through preventive medicine, we test the boundaries of the agreed role of the state. The benefits of intervention may take generations to materialise and – when they do they appear as statistical phenomena – represent decreasing rates of disease, rather than individuals who can point to concrete services creating improvement in their lives.”

The last Labour government increased the focus on preventative health care, but many of the steps we took have been reversed by the new National-led administration. I strongly believe that we’re far better off investing in programmes that keep us healthy rather than focusing on putting more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. But as Ayesha points out, we have to carefully consider where the appropriate role of the state starts and ends.

Just how political is the review of policy advice?

Posted by on August 3rd, 2010

The government announced a review of policy advice today. Given that they have already asked Departmental Chief Executives to look at every line item to find services to cut, it is hard to see this anything other than a political exercise required the confidence and supply agreement with ACT.

Its perhaps no surprise then that Graham Scott, former ACT Party candidate has been chosen to head the review. Mr Scott has had a bit to say over the years about the state sector, including noting in a paper in 2009 that one of Labour’s failings was we had too many political appointments to advisory bodies! I guess he is feeling differently nowadays, especially as on the 30th of August he will be the guest of honour at what appears to be an ACT fundraiser in Auckland

In all seriousness listening to Bill English today, and knowing Graham Scott’s ideological views, this review does have the potential to be one that pushes the privatisation of advice in the public sector. While from time to time all governments will want to get advice from outside the public service, the value of a neutral public service able to give free and frank advice can not be understated. It is a cornerstone of the Westminster system, and gives taxpayers the re-assurance that someone is undertaking dispassionate and thorough analysis and review of policy. Simply getting advice from those you agree with via the internet as Mr English said on radio tonight will not be good for the quality of public services in New Zealand.

PS. take a look at the question (from about 3.30) on this today. I had a bit of fun with the idea of using figures obtained by the equivalent of a google search!

National politicising the public service

Posted by on July 18th, 2010

You might have seen a few quotes emerging from the National Party conference about the impact of the 90 Day fire at will law. This information comes from a Department of Labour report, hard copies of which, it seems, have been circulating at the conference, despite it not yet being publicly available.

Even if it is released publicly after the PMs speech, having a report generated by a public service department circulating at a Party conference before it is available to the rest of the public is a shocking breach of public service rules. This from a party who campaigned on de-politicising the public service. All worthy of a letter to the State Services Commissioner I think.

Why does no one want to be the Director General of Health?

Posted by on July 17th, 2010

The Dom Post reports this morning

It’s the $550,000 job nobody wants. Nearly five months after he announced his resignation, and two weeks out from his departure, no replacement has been found for Health Ministry head Stephen McKernan.

Applications were originally due to close on 6 April this year, but now further ads have been posted. The article reports speculation that I have also heard that a number of people have been shoulder tapped but have declined the offer. There is speculation that the governments cuts to the Health budget and the public sector in general are putting off candidates, and I am sure there is an element of truth to that. But for me there are two words that explain the lack of applicants. Murray Horn.

To recap Horn, the former Treasury Secretary, was Tony Ryall’s handpicked Purchase Advisor, who went on to chair the review the health system which recommended the creation of a National Health Board, which Horn was then appointed to Chair. Someone say jobs for the boys?

While McKernan was too professional to say anything when he quit, the word emerging from the health sector is that Horn and the National Health Board are seen as having the direct line to the Minister, and the Director-General and the rest of the Ministry in general is being sidelined. There are stories of confused accountabilities with Horn and the Board controlling policy advice far more than expected.

Its not hard to see why no one would want to enter that environment. Morale is incredibly low in the Ministry, with hundreds of jobs already cut, and more to go over the next year. Tony Ryall is playing politics by myopically focusing on elective surgery figures,while funding is being slashed from vital public health programmes. It is the classic poisoned chalice.

This should be a critical role that ensures the government is getting quality advice about the short and long term future of our health system, but Tony Ryall’s jobs for the boys approach is the reason why no one wants it. And that is bad for the health of all New Zealanders.

Corrections to be largest Govt Dept- This is ambitious for NZ?

Posted by on July 2nd, 2010

Most readers will know that I am a supporter of a strong public service to ensure that all New Zealanders get the support and services they need.  But I find the story, Corrections to become monster department in this morning’s NZ Herald fundamentally depressing. Bill English says in the article

Corrections will be in two or three years the largest government department, bigger than the Ministry of Social Development or the Inland Revenue Department.”

This really is sad. As a country we are pouring in money to the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. What we should be doing is investing to stop the causes of crime. The investment that should be being made is in CYFS and MSD to support parents and families, in Education to support those identified early as struggling, in Health to make sure health problems that might effect learning or behaviour are dealt with early, in Housing to make sure everyone has a safe place to live and call their home.

The insane thing here is that Bill English seems to realise the problem, but in the article is talking about the government’s approach as if someone else is doing it.

“This shortfall could expand under more punitive justice measures, he warned. Every time you ask for harsher penalties, that shortfall gets bigger. You are part of the driver of the costs. Lock another person up that’s another $90,000 (a year) plus another $250,000 capital (spending).”

Take some responsibility Bill. This was the government that told us they were ambitious for New Zealand. What a load of spin and nonsense. This is simply a plan for giving out the easy “tough on crime” rhetoric, while doing nothing to make New Zealand safer by stopping the crime in the first place.