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Local Bodies: Novopay Exemplifies National’s Governance

Written By: - Date published: 11:45 am, July 31st, 2014 - 26 comments
Categories: bill english, education, Hekia parata, national, same old national, schools, Steven Joyce, wages - Tags: , , , , , ,

Reposted from Local Bodies.

This National led Government is strong on ideology, weak on process and reluctant to accept responsibility. The Novopay debacle exemplifies all of these well.

When questioned about Novopay, National Ministers will never accept full responsibility. Initially the Government blamed Labour because they had employed Talent2 to develop a more sophisticated payroll system to the existing Datacom. This was a total cop out, because software and systems development is a fraught process and always involves a certain leap of faith. Labour’s initial agreement recognized this and included the need for testing and trials before implementation.

There is a long history of difficulties in implementing new IT systems within many government departments under both Labour and National. The most important element in introducing any new system is the management of the implementation and the ability to exit something that is unlikely to work before there are serious consequences. There are many historical experiences like the Police INCIS system that all Ministers should be aware of and contingency plans need to be made if things turn pear shaped.

Stephen Joyce has just announced that the Government will be taking over the management of Novopay after almost two years of stress and wide-ranging issues. Joyce was able to admit that the implementation issues were not all Talent2’s fault and that the Ministry had to share some responsibility. Cleverly, by blaming the Ministry he was able to shift the responsibility away from his cabinet colleagues and his own Government’s ideological interference.

From 2008 the National led Government was determined to introduce widespread systemic change to the way that our public education system has operated. This was entirely ideological because our education system was one of the highest performing in the world (based on international assessments) and other sectors and Ministries were in far greater need of support and change. My most read post The Destruction of New Zealand’s Public Education System (currently 33,000 views) documents the wider changes imposed on education, but I will focus on the particular elements that led to the Novopay mess.

National regarded the Ministry of Education as an overly expensive bureaucracy that needed trimming and cut its budget by $25 million (they gave private schools $35 million at the same time). This was done without any meaningful review and many experienced staff with useful institutional knowledge lost their jobs. New Ministry appointments after this time often did not always have education backgrounds or any experience of working in a school environment.

Ten months before Novopay went live the Government appointed Lesley Longstone to head the Ministry. Longstone was employed from the UK, she had no experience of the New Zealand education system and was obviously chosen because of her expertise in leading the introduction of Free Schools (the UK equivalent of Charter Schools). Longstone struggled in the role and was hardly the best qualified person to fix a ministry that had received one of the lowest ranking of all government departments when it was reviewed a few months earlier by the State Services Commission and the Prime Minister’s office.

The Ministerial Inquiry into the Novopay launch identified a long series of poor decisions and lack of robust oversight. The project was well behind schedule and little of the planned testing and trials had occurred. What tests that had been done had identified numerous faults and yet Ministers English, Parata and Foss were advised that what ever was wrong could be easily rectified after implementation. Very little had been done to prepare schools ahead and there were woefully few staff assigned to field questions and problems that may arise after launching.

The launch was an unmitigated disaster, around 8,000 errors were identified and schools and staff were left suffering for months with a totally dysfunctional system that overpaid, underpaid or didn’t pay at all. Help was almost non existent and many schools ended up paying staff from their own tight budgets and there was no system to return overpayments for many months.

In an effort to save money and implement a system before it was ready has ended upcosting the tax payer $110 million, according to Joyce. Knowing this Government’s manipulation of data it is likely to be much more, but even if we used this figure, that sum would have paid around 2,200 extra teachers for a year or almost 8,000 teacher aids.

Joyce and his colleagues have shifted the responsibility onto Talent2 and the Ministry for the huge waste of money and school disruption that has lasted two long years. This is disingenuous in the extreme and more passing buck that is common under this regime.

It was this Government and its Ministers that:

  • Substantially cut funding to the Ministry of Education without a robust review to support it.
  • Identified the Ministry of Education as poorly performing but did little to address this.
  • Employed someone to head the Ministry with limited local knowledge or relevant expertise.
  • Allowed the Ministry to be staffed with those with little experience of working in a school.
  • Trusted the advice of a Ministry with a poor record and asked few questions.
  • When the implementation went badly, delayed decisive action.
  • Refused any responsibility, but blamed Labour, school staff and the under-resourced Ministry for ongoing problems.
  • As with all other recent school changes, did not widely consult with the profession before hand.
  • Relied heavily on the goodwill of teachers and schools over many months.
  • Paid Lesley Longstone $268,000 in severance pay when many education staff went unpaid for several weeks and even months.
  • Allowed Hekia Parata remain as Minister despite a long history of failure andagainst public wishes (she is still highly ranked in National’s latest list)
No matter what National and its Ministers claim, Novopay is largely their fault, and taking responsibility and making apologies are not what this Government does readily.

See also:


26 comments on “Local Bodies: Novopay Exemplifies National’s Governance”

  1. Lan 1

    It is ridiculous to try and “fix” the software..payroll should be handled by each school, or maybe region ..why they ever hired an Australian company is a mystery ..madness .. plenty of skills for such a routine matter here ..and plenty of business software. Whole thing is nuts!

    • Sam 1.1

      The timeline of Novapay is of no importance, any color of Government makes decisions that come back to haunt them. The contract was let in 2005 and signed off in 2008. The only consolation is that the hard lessons suffered by Education staff and Post Office employees may allow the Billion dollar IRD system be robust and roll out with few problems.

      • Ennui 1.1.1

        Whats the bet that the same idiots will be “consulting” and advising on contracts and deliverables. In a nutshell that is where most IT contracts go off the rails, and the delivering company surrounds itself with bullet proof legal nonsense.

  2. Richard 2

    And it is soooo not fixed. My partner hasn’t received a payslip for 6 months. Wouldn’t have a clue if the pay amounts are correct.

  3. kenny 3

    Captain Fail strikes again!

    Blame everyone but those responsible – gutless!

  4. vto 4

    The novopay bailout by taxpayers is another example of the failure of the policies and philosophies of the current right, as exhibited by the likes of gosman, srylands (same person), farrar, key, joyce, whyte. It now sits on the mantelpiece beside….

    deregulation – 29 dead men at Pike River
    the driver of self-interest – 29 dead men at Pike River
    contracting out to private firms – novopay
    private firms run things better – Air NZ, NZ Rail, Novopay, electricity companies
    deregulation – finance companies, banks and the GFC

    the list is endless and I imagine a BLiP list of such would run mr prents server dry

    the neoliberal dogma that has been foisted on us has failed.

    I once supported it myself but the evidence is now abundantly clear that those principles have very limited use and application.

    You watch the National Party post-Key begin to dump these and manoeuvre back to the middle ways and policies of the past.

  5. Tiger Mountain 5

    In a better world the “NeverPay” debacle would become a standard text on why Freidmanite economics should not be applied to public service delivery.

    Governments should stay out of business the ACToids say (until they crap out) then the long suffering tax payer gets to bail out failed capitalist enterprise again.

    How about; corporates keep out of citizens affairs such as education, health, science, utilities and transport and stick to gadgets, leisure and junk food.

    • Chooky 5.1

      Agreed Tiger Mountain ..this NACT government is a failure and it is exemplified by the shocking mismanagement of professional teachers’ pay…..it is a disgrace!

      Hopefully all teachers will collectively and individually speak out on this before the Election

      • tinfoilhat 5.1.1

        hmmmm unfortunately National and Labour are peas in a pod on much of education…. absolutely hopeless.

        My advice would be to vote Green.

  6. SpaceMonkey 6

    Seems to me the decision for the Government to take over Novopay is a tacit acknowledgement by National that the market doesn’t always get it right…

  7. Stuart Munro 7

    If the government had any integrity they’d sic Paula Bennet and her faceless legions on Talent2. Their fraud has cost NZ four times as much as all benefit fraud put together, so they should face a practical infinity of harassment.

    • ropata 7.1

      but still nowhere near as much as the billions in tax fraud regularly committed by Aussie banks … no penalty as long as we have a bankster PM

  8. Tracey 8

    Does this mean that PPP now stands for piss poor performance?

  9. Macro 9

    This “deal” with Talentless2 ends up costing NZ taxpayers $9m a year for a system that is clearly under performing and not up to specification!

    And Furthermore….
    Captain “fix it” has been crowing all year that it was “Improving” – Well we know he is nothing but a bullshit artist – and this is his masterpiece.
    See NRT for more on this sorry tale:

  10. disturbed 10

    NOVA stands for:
    not obviously very affordable
    Captain fix it said our Gisborne rail wouldn’t pay, and it rings a bell now his NOVAPAY management stinks.
    Roll on election so they can get tossed out and find some other county to mess up not ours.

  11. Tc 11

    The zealots of privatisation get taken for a ride, joyce has failed to deliver which is no surprise.

    Bullying doesnt fix code or process and all labour asked for was an improved system with a web based entry leaving national to make a pigs ear of a payroll system yup payroll nothing new or difficult.

    There are a few enterprise strength systems could have been stood up and running in the time its taken Joyce to fix nothing. But then I think pissing teachers off is a fav nact pastime.

  12. ropata 12

    It was necessary to replace the outdated manual system maintained by Datacom with something. I would be interested to see the criteria for accepting the Novopay tender.

    After INCIS and many many many IT failures around the world surely departments with multi million dollar budgets should have some robust governance. Who the f*ck is responsible for governance of projects if not ultimately the Government.

    Who ignored the warning signs?
    Who forced the system to go live knowing there were 8000 defects, including dozens that were marked as CRITICAL?

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      After INCIS and many many many IT failures around the world surely departments with multi million dollar budgets should have some robust governance.

      Something the size of government can support an IT department to maintain and advise on all hardware and software across all of government. IMO, We’re having these failures because the government doesn’t have such a department and we don’t have that department because of the failed ideology that the private sector does it better. The failures that we’ve gotten from INCIS onwards is proof that the private sector sux as far as government is concerned.

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    Identified the Ministry of Education as poorly performing but did little to address this.

    This is incorrect. They did quite a bit to address it. They:

    1. Cut funding
    2. Lost experienced people
    3. Employed inexperienced people

    and everything else you list. Basically, they did their utmost to utterly destroy the ministry.

  14. tricledrown 14

    Nova Pay has become a whip to beat the teachers with.
    Insider Knowledge has it that it will take at least another 2 years to fix and that anyone caught leaking this information will be instantly dismissed!

  15. dave 15

    well we can all help long suffering teachers by sacking this government on sept 20th

  16. burt 16

    Nova pay sure does exemplify the National Government. Put in place by Labour and inherited by National when it was in a mess – just like the recession handed to National by Labour.

    • Burt, you have an interesting take on responsibility. If we used the analogy of Novopay as a school bus, then we could say that Labour bought the shell of a bus that needed to be constructed for future use. It doesn’t really matter if that shell had some unidentified defects it is the responsibility of the next owner to oversee the construction and not put it on the road until it is properly road worthy.

    • tricledrown 16.2

      burt you are lying it was not put in place by Labour they were only going to trial it for 6 months only in Canterbury to see if the software had any problems and to sse if they could be worked out.
      Hekia Parata rolled it out Nation wide without any trial.
      She is the most incompetent education minister ever.
      This was rolled out with out the trial deliberately to screw teachers over !
      After nationals debacle with INSIS National must have known that one of software like this is prone to failure.

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