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Public Service Reform

Written By: - Date published: 4:30 pm, September 6th, 2018 - 27 comments
Categories: Economy, labour, Privatisation, treasury - Tags:

Apart from the 170 working parties, Wellington is awash with a large rocking boatload of corporate governors of entities from the Walking Authority to the Remuneration Authority to the Electricity Authority to New Zealand On Air. Far be it for me to say whether the whole of New Zealand would be improved if that boat sank and the lot of them drowned. What they do is get in the way of direct democratic accountability to elected Ministers. For a country the size of Melbourne, we have a ridiculously complex state, and this layer of accountablility is largely a complete waste of our taxpayer money and degrades our agency as citizens.

Just a tiny beam of sunlight promises something different.

Way, way back in the late 1980s, most of New Zealand’s public services were pulled from being a single largely unified set of public servants who were accountable through a series of arcane checks and balances to their elected Minister, out into something in which most Departments had chief executives, and many had boards. That was the accountability line: largely remove direct democratic oversight in favour of various levels of corporatisation.

Now, I haven’t said nice things at The Standard about Chris Hipkins, but he is embarking on a major overhaul of the governance structure of the entire public services. Do we really need all these boards? Do they really add more value than what they would have from direct Ministerial oversight? Beyond rolling back New Public Management, can a new reform process form a public service machinery fit for purpose?

The proposed changes are headed straight for that old State Sector Act (1988) and a bunch of others.

Chris Hipkins said recently:

The changes would drive two wider outcomes. On a system wide level, the changes would see the Public Service operate as one, joined up system to tackle the big, complex challenges facing New Zealand. The Public Service would have more capability to wrap multiple services around the needs of citizens.

Under the current model individual departments deliver services that they have sole accountability for. This doesn’t work well when agencies need to be working collectively were citizens often must deal with a number of different agencies on a single issue.”

So the subtext in there is seamless customer service:

There are at least a dozen occasions in everybody’s lives that require major interactions with the government. The birth of a child, moving house, moving jobs, retirement, the death of a close family member are all examples of where having one single contact with government would be much better for citizens.”

Under the changes, the Public Service would be given a range of flexible organisational options to deliver better services and outcomes. Some of those options include:

  • Executive Board of chief executives: this would mean chief executives are jointly responsible for achieving complex government priorities
  • Joint ventures: this would allow the public service to join up people and resources from different agencies to work on common issues
  • One stop shops: bringing related services together at a single point

The Government also proposed to include in legislation the purpose principles, and values of the Public Service. Consultation ends on October 12th, which is fairly quick for a complex topic and shows internally that they know what they want and are going to do it.

A recent speech which outlines his intent is here.

According to Minister Hipkins, they have five levers to achieve intended changes:

  1. Legislation: This includes the State Sector Act, Public Finance Act and Crown Entities Act, which set the basic rules and structure of the system.
  2. Organisational change: This will help drive our policy priorities, for e.g. changing organisational cultures to encourage collaborative behaviours that would help in establishing new agencies if necessary. Recent examples with this government include the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the Pike River, Recovery Agency.
  3. Public Finance: This can enhance effectiveness of public services, for e.g. the reform of the Public Finance Act including the wellbeing budget, the commitment for an Independent Fiscal Institution, as well as specific funding decisions.
  4. Expectations and Accountability: these can be used to focus and drive effort on issues like reducing child poverty and Cabinet Committee outcome measures.
  5. The final lever for change is Employment and workforce policy: This is about decisions that help make the public service an attractive employer by building the skills base and paying the living wage and implementing pay equity and fair pay agreements.

I’m not expecting to see the Public Works Department re-form – NZTA is big enough already. And there’s plenty of horizontal integration occurring already in Minister Twyford’s portfolios through simple Ministerial force. There would need to be a root-and-branch of the Public Finance Act to decorproatise this country, and I don’t see appetite for that.

And I am sure we think there are a few time-wasters who sound like the Grand Pooh-Ba from the Mikado, who deigns to serve his Mikado (who is also the Lord High Executioner) suchly:

It is consequently my degrading duty to serve this upstart as First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-In-Chief, Lord High Admiral, Master of the Buck Hounds, Groom of the Back Stairs, Arch Bishop of Titipu, and Lord Mayor, all rolled in to one!”

Actually the most lasting cultural change from the late 1980s in the Wellington public service, as far as I can see, is that every Department is rocked by perpetual restructures that ensure that no-one commits to their job because everyone is afraid. There are too many Lord High Executioners; too much make work masquerading as a necessity from corporatised accountability layers.

Apart from slowing the rate of the executioners’ sword, I am hoping that there will be more initiatives such as The Southern Initiative in which horizontal accountability gets cracking into really poor areas of Auckland. I would very much like to hear why Minister Hipkins think this version of reform is more effective than the tightly calibrated set of measures for improving citizens’ lives spelled out by Bill English prior to the last election.

This is a reform process with the potential to clear out a layer or two of make work luvvies, who exist as largely non-value-adding chumps reifying themselves as Wellington’s haute-bourgeoisie experts coming out to feed Saturday morning at Moore Wilsons.

It is up to Minister Hipkins to determine if he is an executioner of waste and privilege, or a middle manager simply replicating himself as middle manager.

27 comments on “Public Service Reform”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Leave my Walking Access Commision alone!

    https://www.walkingaccess.govt.nz/

    • Ad 1.1

      Bless their walking socks.

      • OnceWasTim 1.1.1

        Sorry @Ad. The GWRC with its transport plan has put paid to all that.
        Apparently now-a-days, they’ll need acceptable fashion experiences (going forward) in order to grace the services of a basic transport ‘expereince’ going forward’

        Even the fucking EASIEST of solutions aren;t within the realm of the fuck-witters who’ve a vested interest and who think a Number 18 revirew is enuff.

        ( Sorry Darren – not nearly enuff )

        • OnceWasTim 1.1.1.1

          ew ew ew, I realise you prolly didnt mean to go so low as a local community lebvel.
          But since we have, and in the context of a Kruss Huppkins ruview (going ford),
          Do you think Kruss might find it easier to register is man-chile?
          All that ternal fears; then all that shit once you’ve buried the after-burth (no worries -it’ll go forth………….
          prolly shouldn;t go too much further in the interests of a Jacinda happy-babe

          (although she prolly should get with the programme with mothers in refugee camps that haven’t had as easy as her – even including a partner whose preoccupatiom is first with bubbs, then sea-lie.

          Fuck! Jacinda – what the fuck are you thinking. ( My guess is pragmatism rather than making a difference)

  2. Stunned Mullet 2

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just drop a small nuclear device on Wellington and start over…………the sacrifice of the good people of Wellington would be duly noted and eulogised by the rest of the country.

  3. BM 3

    Who’s behind this public sector restructuring?

    Richie Cunningham is just the spokesperson, any idea who the puppet master is?

    • Dennis Frank 3.1

      The Minister of State Services. Scoop has his introduction of the initiative in full here: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1809/S00075/hipkins-consultation-on-public-service-reform-4918.htm

      So “the purpose of today is to outline the changes we are proposing and to launch the start of a conversation with you as key stakeholders and with the public. We need you to help us reshape the Public Service. We want to get this right so it’s really important that you have your say.”

      He demonstrates that he’s a typical Labour minister by failing to include instructions as to how the public can actually do what he suggests.

  4. Dennis Frank 4

    Probably the most vital design feature to integrate is an integral liaison function to enable collaboration. Break down the old silo mentality, which makes departments independent of each other, and restricts public servants to specific functions.

    Essential to incorporate a mechanism by which both departments and public servants are specifically required to serve the public on the basis of our common interests (instead of just doing as they’re told).

    That requires all to operate according to their conscience, and do their duty by taking responsibility for their actions. That provides autonomy and agency. Enforce accountability to both peers and authority: that will keep everyone on the same page in respect of what is required and will constrain and discipline idiosyncrasy.

    So that’s an outline of how I’d do it if I were minister. Obviously Hipkins will be more timid, unimaginative and will need others to point him in the right direction.

  5. OnceWasTim 5

    Fark! at Ad! I need a while to clutch my pearls and take the entirety of all your post in.
    And I’m wondering whether you’ve been on the blower to Martyn Bradbury. Only because not too many weeks back, I’d thought one of your posts was singing the praises of one of the biggest government bugger’s muddles (MoBIE).

    I need time to cope! blow me down and call me Doris.

    Like you, I am hoping Hipkins’ proposals are more than turd polishing, and not merely based on how much of a hassle it is to register a child and engage with the state.

  6. Dennis Frank 6

    From the govt website: “Under the changes, the Public Service would be given a range of flexible organisational options to deliver better services and outcomes. Some of those options include:

    Executive Board of chief executives: This would mean chief executives are jointly responsible for achieving complex government priorities
    Joint Ventures: This would allow the Public Service to join up people and resources from different agencies to work on common issues
    One stop shops: Bringing related services together at a single point.

    The Government also proposed to include in legislation the purpose, principles and values of the Public Service, Chris Hipkins said. “It’s a simple thing but spelling out the purpose, the principles and values will provide the foundations on which the Public Service operates which I believe will have a unifying effect. It’s about ensuring the Public Service is imbued with a spirit of service, acts with integrity, and fulfils its constitutional role supporting Executive Government.””

    The Exec board concept must be implemented to flex in response to situational demands. One way to design for such flexibility is to recreate the board on an as-needed basis: using only CEOs with the relevant expertise for each major policy initiative, empowering them to incorporate consultants & co-ordinating managers if or when necessary. A similarly effective design could be to use a small permanent executive board for the purpose of the creation of subsidiary task-specific organising groups which could also operate as independent boards reporting to the relevant minister.

    I can’t see any functional difference between the joint venture and one-stop-shop options so it could be the same idea framed differently arriving from different advisory groups prior to the announcement. I agree that such coordinating groups are essential to produce a culture of effective collaboration.

    The quote from the minister shows that his head is in the right place as regards goals and intentions. Let’s hope he also gets a range of helpful suggestions and advice from both civil servants and the public, to facilitate design & implementation.

  7. R.P Mcmurphy 7

    where do I sign up for a job?

  8. Dennis Frank 8

    Here’s the essence of current govt expectations for the output of the reform process: “the Act is currently based on a model of a single department delivering, with strong lines of vertical accountability from one Chief Executive to a single Minister. That doesn’t work where we need agencies working collectively, across organisational boundaries, to achieve results for New Zealanders.

    There is also an expectation that public services are more accessible and organised with the citizen at the centre. The Public Service needs to be able to work as an agile and adaptable system in which people and resources are able to move more flexibly across present agency boundaries.”

    All those career public servants who have spent years learning the inadequacies of the current system ought to sit down in a quiet space with pen & paper & draft a list of all the changes they see as essential, based on their personal experience. Then keep it handy to use as basis for a written document submission or word-process it into an electronic file for when govt provides a place to submit it to!

  9. greywarshark 9

    If we stopped bringing over furriners of different colours ato be public servants and executives nd looked to train up our own people it would help leave jobs for NZ when shrinking our public service would start that retreat.

    Then have a look at the laws. Can they be simplified, and then properly monitored.
    Can we get down to half as many say? Health and safety are super tight while the government lets waterways and drinking water be polluted. The safety part pftem crops up after an accident.

    There seem to be rooms full of new law makers like the image. They have to turn out work so they can keep on being paid. Is it a USA practice, I think health and safety crops up in foreign media as well. Practicality rules OK.

  10. Michael 10

    I agree that the State Sector needs reform but Hipkins’ ideas will not achieve it. The PSA will never let a “Labour” government do anything to stop public servants abusing and mistreating the people they are paid to serve.

  11. D'Esterre 11

    “Actually the most lasting cultural change from the late 1980s in the Wellington public service, as far as I can see, is that every Department is rocked by perpetual restructures that ensure that no-one commits to their job because everyone is afraid. There are too many Lord High Executioners…”

    I’m a former public servant. I was only briefly in Wellington; for most of my career, I worked in other parts of NZ.

    In my view, Rogernomics was the worst thing ever to happen to the public service. It might sound corny now, but there was an esprit de corps which had developed over many decades, and redounded to the benefit of all of us. We understood that we were there to serve the public, that we could make a whole-of-working-life career of it if we wished. And that was no bad thing. In the old days, late 19th and early 20th centuries, Catholics could get work in the public service, when they were turned away from other areas of employment.

    The big government departments acted as training grounds for young architects and engineers, along with various trades. The loss of, for instance, the Ministry of Works, has been incalculable from that point of view.

    The constant restructuring is nonsensical: it achieves nothing. Calling in outside consultants to carry out reviews: now there’s make-work for you!

    The old public service wasn’t perfect; no human organisation is. But it was a great deal more efficient and – certainly where I worked – efficacious, than what’s left of it now.

    “… a layer or two of make work luvvies, who exist as largely non-value-adding chumps reifying themselves as Wellington’s haute-bourgeoisie experts coming out to feed Saturday morning at Moore Wilsons.”

    That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? And how accurate is it? The public service in Wellington seems to be dominated by contractors now. Not much opportunity for make-work in such an uncertain environment, I’d have thought.

    I wish Hopkins well with his reform project. But I’m dubious about whether he can undo 30 years of systematic wrecking of the public service.

    • Ad 11.1

      D’Esterre, that “…layer of make-work luvvies …” line was directed at the Directors of the Boards, not at the public servants.

      Public servants are generally awesome.

      And D’Esterre, with regards to your career, thank you for your service to the country.

      • D'Esterre 11.1.1

        Ad: “was directed at the Directors of the Boards, not at the public servants.”

        Pleased to hear it! I’d started looking sideways at the Moore Wilson customers…

        “…thank you for your service to the country.”

        Thanks, Ad. I enjoyed it for the most part. Until Rogernomics happened along.

    • Marcus Morris 11.2

      Couldn’t agree more. Much as I admired David Lange and had a great affection for him, his lasting legacy has been “Tomorrow’s Schools” which has been a disaster in my opinion. Before the “business model” was introduced we had a system that was admired throughout the world and that was producing world leading “out comes”. Education Boards and the Department provided an over-riding umbrella of expertise and assistance that was free and readily available. When the “business model” was introduced “assistance” came from private providers at a cost, many schools, especially in the primary sector, had great difficulty in getting suitable persons into their management structures (not so difficult for secondary schools because they always had a greater degree of autonomy). In the pre “TS” days the Department or local Education Board had the ability to provide assistance and solutions very quickly when a school was having an issue of any nature.

      Possibly the worst aspect was the competition it has created between school for roll numbers. Ridiculous amounts of money is and has been spent on glossy promotional material, often with little actual benefit. This is/was particularly evident in medium sized rural towns where two schools (one the older established identity) competed in a very limited market. Vast amounts of money was spent that could have been utilised so much more effectively in providing educational facilities within the schools themselves.

      • D'Esterre 11.2.1

        Marcus Morris: ““Tomorrow’s Schools” which has been a disaster”

        Couldn’t agree more. It’s turned out to have pretty much nothing to recommend it.

        We’d all have been far better off, had Lange not caught the neolib bug, and Douglas had discovered a religious vocation and entered a closed order, before he made it into Parliament.

    • D'Esterre 11.3

      “Hopkins”

      Of course that should be Hipkins. As I know very well, but was not quick enough to spot the mistake last night.

      Bloody auto-edit….

  12. Tuppence Shrewsbury 12

    Soooooo….. cuts to the public service in the drive for efficiency.

    The colours may change but our rulers remain the same.

    • Ad 12.1

      There’s no signal of cuts at all.
      On the contrary the government is rolling out massive programmes, which of course requires more people to run them.

  13. millsy 13

    Makes a change from “The government’s not that good at doing this, so we will let the private sector do it instead.”.

  14. Steve Bradley 14

    We do want a central and local government which serves the people, And even more, enables the people to serve themselves as much as practicable. This can’t happen in 5 minutes, but the way could be opened to facilitate local citizen power over areas of life where people live.

    Areas such as public spaces, local traffic planning, land use, playgrounds, employment; essential services such as post office, bank, library, gymnasia, social welfare office, health clinics, could benfit from more direct citzen input and control.

    Potential for direct citizen control over automobile noise, liquor retailing, speed limits, cross-walks, public toilets, cleaning streets, bus stops, and so on (imagine!) could repurpose layers of stifling bureaucracy and allow citizens to function like adults in control of their own neighbourhoods.

    If we want communities with less financialised capitalism, more environmental richness, and increased levels of physical and mental health, self-acting comunalism is a good place to develope.

  15. corodale 15

    Yes, good article, good plans, good luck.

    Retreating from technocratic governance-by-finance, back to ecological principles. Using a decentralised-web-chain, to make insights and action possible:

    Would govt then see how welfare, environment, social services, education, housing and military can all combine as a grand solution? Eg. Post-school community-service (social/environmental/military), filling alternative accommodation niches, as a trial of a UBI, linked to the ethos of life-long-education, learning-by-doing and voluntary service.

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