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:
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:
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.