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Public service numbers

Written By: - Date published: 5:17 pm, April 14th, 2009 - 44 comments
Categories: labour, national/act government, public services - Tags:


I’ve just stumbled across this killer graph from the PSA on public service numbers under Labour and National.

It helpfully puts in graphical form what we’ve known all along – that for all the bleating we’ve heard from National and its sycophants about how Labour’s bloated public service was sucking the nation dry, the reality is that all Labour did in its nine years was repair a small portion of the damage the Nats did in the 1990s.

You may recall that when Labour came to power the public service was a wreck. It had got to the stage that even the results of the 1999 election were delayed because the Electoral Commission was so badly underresourced.

Looks like we’re in for more of the same from National this time round. After all, they’ve gotta pay for those upper class tax cuts somehow.

44 comments on “Public service numbers”

  1. jerry 1

    In between the bombast it might be useful to consider what a reasonable level of public servants for NZ would be.

    I would suggest that there’s probably areas that are grossly over resourced and areas that are grossly under resourced, I’m assuming the the 55k of public servants in 1990 takes into account those working at some of the now privatised corporations ?

  2. And, I wonder if the graph might usefully incorporate the government spend on external consultancy. Presumably that could be indexed, based on the average wage wage of public servants, and added the the public service numbers?

  3. Lanthanide 3

    It’s a very biased graph because the Y axis doesn’t start at 0. It makes it look like national cut 100% of jobs (because it goes from the highest Y point to the lowest) and that Labour replaced them.

    Also I don’t know why the Y axis has the extra ’40’ hanging on each of the marks.

    The PSA fail at making graphs.

  4. mike 4

    The scary part Tane is that the massive increase in the public service showed no sign of leveling off.
    Give the nats at least 3 terms to get things back to realistic levels and by then the faceless bureaucrats should be weaned from the publics teat

    • lprent 4.1

      I’m more worried about the faceless bankers at the teat. Some of those guarantees get a bit scary when you realize that they are given to the masterminds who financed the property boom.

      Hopefully property prices will continue going down gradually to more realistic levels faster than those bozo’s (and various property speculators) drain the public finances dry. After all they have one of their own parasites in power…

      • jerry 4.1.1

        “I’m more worried about the faceless bankers at the teat”

        Eh what ………. what faceless bankers are at the government teat in NZ ?

        Which of the banks in NZ masterminded the property boom ?

        I thought you Labour party apparatchicks had given up on the Key smears ? What nexy more accusations of baby eating ?

        • lprent

          Most of them. There was a set of government guarantees put through in september/october. At last count this government has been giving it to all and shonkey, including some very dubious finance companies. Have a look at this and expand your knowledge of current affairs.

          BTW: I’d suggest that you look at the policy and about.
          I don’t take kindly to the illusions of wingnuts with lots of lines and limited intelligence about who and what I work for. It is a fast way to get a permanent leave of absence from this site.

          • jerry

            Weak ….the guarantee put through by the last government and strongly supported by the opposition while the legislation should have excluded the fly by night finance companies it is hardly an example of faceless bankers at the government teat.

            You know as well as I that if any of the major lending institutions have to call in the guarantee we are all likely to be economically fucked.

            In relation to the property boom – this was as usual created by the public investing wildly in property as is their want in NZ – one day perhaps a capital gains tax on property might be introduced by Labour or National to curb this behaviour but as it’ll cost either party votes I expect they will as usual do nothing.

            “I don’t take kindly to the illusions of wingnuts with lots of lines and limited intelligence about who and what I work for.”

            You’ve been very open that you are a member of the Labour party, have Helen on speed dial and are on the Mt Albert selection committee your hatred of Key is also fairly plain for all to see.

  5. Graeme 5

    The Electoral Commission has nothing to do with counting votes.

    The results of the 1999 election were delayed because there were two citizens initiated referendums at the same time. When you’ve got twice the number of votes to count it takes longer.

  6. The Baron 6

    but this all relies upon the assumption that any cut in public service staff levels is a bad thing… surely even you guys agree that where there are opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce wasteful programmes that this is a reasonable way of spending the public’s cash?

    Or instead do you guys think that every dollar spent is a good one? That is sloppy thinking – I’m sure every household would love to spend their cash willy nilly, but economic reality doesn’t make it so. Why you think that the government should be immune from such prudence is beyond me – it just seems like ideological ranting, and it has no place in government thanks!

  7. Postal 7

    Another dumb post written by someone who doesn’t work in the public sector.

    As some one who does, I can honestly say there is ample scope to either reconfigure how the number of people are currently used or even make prudent cuts in the right unproductive places.

    Quantity does NOT equal quality but nor does cutting blindly without due consideration of the likely impacts. However, the waste that one finds in government is repugnant when you consider that it is tax payer funded, often on programmes and initiatives significant sections of the taxpaying public simply wouldn’t consider a priority.

    A good old fashioned value for money drive, just as the current government is doing, is prudent given the current circumstances. You can debate the merits of their decisions but only the idelogical or self-interested (i.e. the PSA) would debate the need to undertake such a VFM drive.

    YEs any shrinkage in the public service has implications for the amount of union fees the PSA receives and therefore their ability to keep funding SKY TV at their Head Office, early friday knock off, 5 weeks annual leave etc… Things the people they represent simply don’t get… 😉

  8. George Darroch 8

    Not that I think that the general thrust is wrong – numbers are what they were in 1994 when the population was 20% less…

    How many of those on the early side of the graph (1980s) were employees of NZ Rail, Telecom etc.?

    • vidiot 8.1

      Yes – I do wonder how many public service jobs were moved over to private enterprise jobs when the asset sell off occurred. Telecom, NZ Steel, Petrocorp, Post Office Bank, State Insurance, etc.


      • Pascal's bookie 8.1.1

        Hint: SOE’s don’t employ civil servants.

        • vidiot

          You don’t have to be a civil servant to be in the PSA.

          “PSA membership is open to employees across the public sector. This includes all public service and non-public service departments, crown entities, district health boards, local government, state-owned enterprises, non-governmental and community organisations providing public services.”

          Oh and bugger me, you can be in the PSA if you are employed by a SOE.


          • Maynard J

            The graph isn’t PSA membership, it is “Public Servants”. They are not interchangable terms.

            Oh, and bugger me but you contradicted your own argument: that when the Great NZ Sell-off happened people would have left the ‘public service’, but that they could have stayed in the ‘public service’ after all. Own-goal…

          • Pascal's bookie

            So? Is this graph about PSA membership? What’s that got to do with anything?.

            “PSA membership is open to employees across the public sector. This includes all public service and non-public service departments, crown entities, district health boards, local government, state-owned enterprises, non-governmental and community organisations providing public services.’

            I think this graph is about the bolded bit.

            edit: M.j. snap

  9. Noddy (used to be Dr.No) 9

    I’m not quite sure what the problem is with this graph? Looks awfully nice to me.

  10. Trevor Mallard 10

    The graph is of public servants and the drop during the previous National government was post the corporatisation phase of the 1980’s. So the big numbers in the state sector previously are not in the graph. Also because health and education are not core public service the growth in teachers and nurses don’t show.

    What we found when first in government was that there was a real shortage of both skills and numbers for policy work and especially implementation. There was a deliberate effort to rebuild the public service and the numbers reflect that. That doesn’t mean however that things are perfect – and all governments should be alert to ways of doing things better. That means shifting emphasis not wholesale cuts.

    • Daveski 10.1

      Can I just add that while I don’t expect I will agree with Trevor’s comments most of the time, it is refreshing to see public commenting of an MP both here (to be expected) and at KB (most unexpected).

      Naturally, I would prefer that Trevor desists and stops giving Labour MP’s a good name 🙂

      • Pascal's bookie 10.1.1

        I think Worth should follow his example!

        Seems to have time for extra curricular activities, and he can pretend to be not wearing whatever hat he likes.

  11. 50% more public servants since 1999? So has there been a 50% increase in educational performance, increase in value of surgical and medical procedures undertaken, increase in response times to police call outs?

    No funnily enough.

    Why shouldn’t taxpayers demand more value?

    The true failure of this graph is it doesn’t match numbers to productivity, which the PSA has stubbornly refused to link pay to.

  12. ak 12

    Bottom line is, for all the months and years of shrieking and squealing about “tens of thousands” of “public service bureaucrats” twiddling their thumbs and eating up all this hard-earned taxpayer money, we’ve yet to have any identified.

    Come on lads, usually when you demonise an entire sector for populist vote-scraping there’s at least an example or two: Nia Glassie and twilight golf hip-hop tours did it for Maori, so out of “tens of thousands” you should at least be able to come up with one or two? Nope? Watch it men: on top of welching on the “north of $50” vote-buying offer, Labour-lite’s starting to look like Labour-lite-liars.

  13. Stephen 13

    50% more public servants since 1999? So has there been a 50% increase in educational performance, increase in value of surgical and medical procedures undertaken, increase in response times to police call outs?

    Some population increase I suspect.

  14. Stephen 14

    ak, you’re saying you haven’t noticed any public sector people being let go in the last few months at all?

  15. Maynard J 15

    Libertyscott, have you ever called in a plumber and been unsatisfied with the job they did laying your deiveway? Ordered pizza and complained it didn’t look after your kids properly?

    Let me put it another way – do you want a policy analyst to operate on you, a customs agent to take your 111 call, or a prison guard to teach your kids in primary school?

    You haven’t sucessfully identified the job the core public service does. If you want to add in the police, teachers and nurses I suspect the number would swell out to over 200,000.

    These in question are the people who help to create and implement Government policy. You’re barking up the wrong tree by looking at operations, teachers and police – there are hundreds, if not thousands, of indicators you’d need to look at to formulate an accurate assessment of whether we’re getting value for money. You’d need to look at every single initiative undertaken by the dozens of Government departments in the last nine years, and each & every deliverable from them, before you’d get your answer.

    National asked for a line-by-line analysis of spending (which is fine) & then demanded 5-10% cuts in spending. Note that the two are not related, and that the outcome of the latter won’t enhance the former.

    Given they’ve had nine years to figure out what to do it would be nice to see some specific targets and expanations therein. Asking for savings from them is lazy and ineffective.

  16. ben 16

    Do these numbers include the 24,000 people it used to take to run the railways very, very badly?

    Because nobody misses that.

  17. vidiot 17

    Tane – could you please link to the source article that the graph was from. Without it, or an understanding of where the data is from it’s pointless.

    a) How were these numbers derived ? Was the data based on PSA membership figures ?
    b) Do they include the state asset privatisation numbers (Telecom, NZ Steel, NZ Rail, etc) – not SOE’s ?

    • Maynard J 17.1

      Clearly not a) – PSA website has 57K members, max on graph is <45K.
      b) also unlikely – employees of SOE, Crown Entities and all aren’t included in the ‘public service’ in any description I’ve ever seen.

      I can understand that for the sake of this argument people would try to argue that National didn’t cut the public service, but the other 99% of the time the same people are proud of the fact that National gutted the Public Service and tout it as a crowning achievement, so it’s a bit of an unrealistic line to pursue.

      Just unfortunate for you all here, because the numbers show that Labour’s huge ballooning growth was nothing of the sort, when you look at the cuts at the other end. Afraid ya might have to accept that it was just spin.

      • Felix 17.1.1

        Afraid ya might have to accept that it was just spin.

        Only if they want to maintain any sort of intellectual honesty. It’s not generally an issue though.

  18. I would loooooove to see the entire graph. You know, the bit where Labour was before 1990. 🙂 Oh and if we had all these “amazing” rises of state employees why didn’t we see a proportionate increase in productivity and positive outcomes?

    • Maynard J 18.1

      Well Clint, it just so happens…

      Positive Outcomes

      There be more 🙂 than 🙁 and we’re holding our own well enough in many areas, which is good under international comparison.

      (I’d also like to see the graph for the entire century or the second half at least. Though without the corresponding outcomes – like the report linked above – it’s all a bit academic.)

  19. Ben R 19

    The slide downwards appears to have commenced under Labour in the late 1980’s.

    Showing a drop in numbers doesn’t tell us much though, just as the increase under Labour since 1999 doesn’t tell us much. Other than that the numbers changed.

    • Maynard J 19.1

      It shows that National’s talk of bloated bureaucracy and scaremongering about the numbers of public servants was false – lies pure and simple. As is the point of the post.

      • jerry 19.1.1

        No, not really, all it shows is numbers of public servants at certain periods – it gives no real insight into what the numbers represent (where they worked etc).

        The Nats could just as easily say that numbers of public servants increased by 50% under Labour’s watch……which allthough true doesn’t offer any analysis of what’s really going on.

        As I said in the first comment I would suggest that there’s probably areas that are grossly over resourced and areas that are grossly under resourced,

        • Maynard J

          What the Nats were saying is that we have a ‘Rolls Royce’ government, the bureaucracy is bloated and out of control and in need of a good bon-firing, and chuck in any other tired, arrogant anti-public service cliche you can think of, ’cause they said it. This here graph, in putting the recent numbers and growth in perspective, shows those statements to be false by any reasonable analysis, unless you can conclusivly prove we need fewer public servants per capita that we did a decade ago. Well that’s the only real option, because trying to pretend the cuts in the 90’s were due to privatisation seems to have fallen flat.

          • jerry

            “This here graph, in putting the recent numbers and growth in perspective, shows those statements to be false by any reasonable analysis, unless you can conclusivly prove we need fewer public servants per capita that we did a decade ago. ”

            One could just as easily say

            “This here graph, in putting the recent numbers and growth in perspective, shows those statements to be true by any reasonable analysis, unless you can conclusivly prove we need 50% more public servants per capita that we did a decade ago. ”

            And it would be just as banal – they key issue is that there has been no reasonable analysis one way or the other of what the numbers represent in terms of where and what people were employed doing and the impact of increasing or decreasing numbers within specific areas such as health, law and order etc etc.

          • Maynard J

            One could just as easily say

            isn’t a substitute for being correct. You wouldn’t need to try and prove which statement is true to anyone who remembers the state of the public service in the late 90’s and I’m not going to rehash it for your benefit when I’m sure you’re perfetly capable of looking into it. Most would take it as a given.

            But I think you’re making a good point if you’re going for a parody of National talking points. The entire election debate was on National’s terms – just looking at numbers without a historical context or pretending to consider whether those numbers were justified.

            And you have to agree Labour were singularly useless at doing anything about that. Someone give them some Sun Tzu, and book mark ‘Fatal Terrain’.

            they key issue is that there has been no reasonable analysis

            Here, in the media, by politicians, or all of the above? I can guarantee National’s not doing anything – remember, it’s just “Cut 5-10% and we don’t give two hoots where from” so you should probably take your concerns to them. You can use my link to the MSD 2008 Social Report, it’s a damn good place to start, which is why I brought it up.

    • Felix 19.2

      “…doesn’t tell us much. Other than that the numbers changed.”

      Yeah, that’s kind of what graphs do. They show you numbers changing.

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  • Speech to Labour Party Congress 2020
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  • Speech by the Minister of Defence to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs
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  • Statement on passage of national security law for Hong Kong
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