Rearranging the deck chairs

Written By: - Date published: 6:10 am, June 1st, 2011 - 41 comments
Categories: economy, john key, leadership, public services - Tags: , ,

Remember 2008? Remember back when John Key sounded vaguely sane and reasonable? In a speech to the Public Service Association Congress in September 2008 Key said:

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.

Perhaps that John Key was kidnapped by aliens. Because as the icy waves of incompetence lap over the gunwales of the economy, the new John Key, clueless captain of our slowly sinking ship of state, is hard at work rearranging the deck chairs:

Finance minister Bill English and State Sector minister Tony Ryall today announced proposals to shut down five crown entities and three tribunals, combine two government agencies and merge back office administrative services across three major state agencies.

A working group would also be established to identify more reforms aimed at getting “value for money” from the public sector in future.

No doubt the first step in National’s grand plan will be to hire some more consultants on $1,000 a day contracts. Just like Auckland we’ll be outsourcing the work that we no longer have the staff to cover.

Then what? All they’ve identified is merging a handful of minor agencies. You could merge them all into one department and call it the Ministry of Silly Walks for all I care. What matters is that we get the public services we need at good value for money. But there’s no target for savings, and no sign that any of this paper shuffling and logo changing will help deliver them. And never mind the waste “of energy and inspiration soaked up by institutional change, as well as the loss of personal and institutional knowledge”…

Renaming, merging and splitting agencies is what a government does when it wants to look busy but has no ideas. Hard to believe it has only taken two and a half years for National to get to this point.

41 comments on “Rearranging the deck chairs”

  1. Charlie Parker 1

    OK, well lets talk organisational structure. What kind of order would a public service organisation take? What you seem to be saying is that a CEO sitting at the top, surrounded by various executives, then middle managers, then supervisors, then workers and contractors… doesn’t work. So how do you get a finite amount of funds and resources directly to the people who need them, with highest efficiency?

    • Eddie 1.1

      what a poor attempt at deflection.

      here is national, which split up all these crown bodies in the 90s when it was trendy, now reuniting a few of those bodies (note, the PSA doesn’t oppose consolidation) in substitute for a real plan.

      Does this give you any confidence in the government’s vision for New Zealand, that its spending its time tinkering with a few crown agencies that most have never heard of.

  2. ron 2

    Your question is askew, Charlie. There are any num,ber of functions in the public service.
    Getting “a finite amount of funds and resources directly to the people who need them, with highest efficiency” is only one of them.

  3. Charlie Parker 3

    Like the writer of the article, none of you have read what he’s written. He says:

    “What matters is that we get the public services we need at good value for money.”

    Is he askew? Is he “deflecting”? I asked the same question in my own words, but instead of stopping at a whine about what is happening, looked for solutions. Now you tell me there are no solutions? So is this article just spam is it?

    If the PS organisations are not yet shut down or restructured, if their structure has stayed the same way as under Labour, then why the wailing about resources not reaching their target efficiently? Would that not suggest that Labour’s structure also didn’t work? And so I asked HOW.

    Please tell me this isn’t yet another article that can be boiled down to “We’re pissed, not because we have a vision and it’s frustrating not being able to implement it, but because we aren’t in power.”

    It simply isn’t an efficient use of my eyeball resources to read worthless crappings.

    • Eddie 3.1

      we’re discussing the proposal before us. The conclusion most people seem to have come to is it is tinkering and illustrative of a lack of ideas.

      The ‘what would you do’ gambit is a deflection as old as debate. r0b, as far as I know, isn’t an organisational systems expert, nor am I. And the government isn’t being criticised on those grounds. You’re trying to deflect the debate into a technocratic dead-end, rather than addressing the political point – which is that these mergers are so minor that we’re left wondering where national’s bigger ideas are.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 3.2

      Largely agree with that but I think the issue here is that a useless govt is trying to justify its existence by doing something for the sake of doing something.

      The NZ PS constantly needs overhaul and re-structuring.labour did a bit but not enough. But where is the justification? Unfortunately this government has already got rid of most of its best policy people who could helped that happen. So where is the evidence that we are not wasting our time going to come from?

      Interesting when English is asked, why combine X with Y? How do you know it will be more efficient? His answer is I have no idea because we haven’t done any analysis, but it sounds good on paper.

    • bbfloyd 3.3

      you need to get some reality into you charlie. the ps organisations have been undergoing constant tinkering, and restructering since national took office. the only result, in general has been an erosion of efficiency and productivity…

      If you don’t believe me, then talk to the people who work for those agencies. If they like you, they might just open up and fill you in. But first you’ll have to reassure them you don’t intend to tell anyone in govt what they told you.. the level of fear and paranoia is quite acute it present.

      yet another “manufactured” crisis….

      word to the wise…. attempts at undermining and/or denigration of scourses of the information necessary to informed debate and decision making actually makes a bad situation worse…. is that really the right way to “sort out” anything?

    • Draco T Bastard 3.4

      …then why the wailing about resources not reaching their target efficiently? Would that not suggest that Labour’s structure also didn’t work?

      Did anyone actually say that the resources weren’t being allocated efficiently? Reorganisation may or may not bring that about, either way, it certainly costs a hell of a lot. Also, they’re not actually looking to see if they can bring about any efficiencies which really should be the first thing you do.

      National set up the present organisational structure in 1990s so it’s not “Labours”.

  4. Tom Gould 4

    If this is about deckchairs, then why is the PSA reported saying this will cost “hundreds of jobs”? As usual, the union gets the line wrong. Remember the Warners hand-out? Another example of them talking to the room.

    • Eddie 4.1

      the PSA doesn’t oppose rationalisation. they’ve repeatedly stated that. they have a responsibility to their members to say jobs should only be cut for good reasons but what they’re more worried about is in the insidious cuts from the $1b in unallocated reductions in the budget.

      • Lanthanide 4.1.1

        Apparently the kiwisaver funding changes soaks up about “2/3rds” of the total 1 billion. Not sure if that literally means $666m, or if it just means $600-700m.

  5. Rob
    You know I hate them all with a passion.

    You say
    Renaming, merging and splitting agencies is what a government does when it wants to look busy but has no ideas.
    Hard to believe it has only taken two and a half years for National to get to this point

    Q-So when did Labour get to this point?

    And if they did what has changed in Labour now?

    They are like a tag wrestling team, and we are the suckers on the mat, it was only 12-13 years ago ‘we’ went through the privatisation of ACC then they changed team mates and and ACC got changed back, so now it is getting privatised again, and then we will have another change and it will go back into govt control

    Captain Ed Key-Smith is no different than Captain Ed Clark-Smith, they where/are in charge of a sinking juggernaut, and there is just not enough lifeboats to keep 4+ million people out of the drink..
    And Phucgoff will do no better

    • r0b 5.1

      You know I hate them all with a passion.

      Yeah you do. Don’t let it overwhelm you. I’ve let mine burn down over the years (since Muldoon / Regan / Thatcher) to a kind of slow simmering irritation.

      • Robert Atack 5.1.1

        Actually Rob, I don’t hate them as such, as hate is a self destroying emotion.
        I find them contemptible – the fact they think and treat us like idiots, I just want to make sure they know at least one person in the sucked in country doesn’t believe the bullshit they spout.
        One exception being Hone, who is trying hard to get a grip with it all.
        But as 99% of the general dumb public do believe the BS, I guess I can’t blame them to much for seeing an opportunity to crawl to the top of the shit pile, it is what all bacteria /cockroaches do after all.
        And the fact that people go out and vote every 3 years just encourages them, when the truth is voting in this system is as guaranteed to change things as voting in Zimbabwe.
        (I don’t understand why Fiji don’t adopt some of Mugabe’s ideas?)
        But alas the public are just to brain washed and out and out fucking stupid, they clearly do not give a flying fuck about their children that is for sure.
        I was so concerned about my kids I didn’t have any.
        If parents where awake and did give a stuff, they would be marching in the streets demanding honesty in the house and honesty in the actions of the ruling elite, but no, give them a wide screen TV and on going debates about which end of the egg to place in the egg cup and they are happy.
        So maybe as George Carlin says we deserve the wankers, as they are a true representation of the trash that is human kind.
        For all our so called advances, we are still just as stupid as Easter Island stone masons, I think this photo should be the image for Kiwi Saver http://photos.igougo.com/images/p428896-Easter_Island-Easter_Island_245.jpg
        As it shows how locked into the system they were, even with no way of moving the statues they still carved the biggest ones just as their system was going into unreversible collapse.
        Happy Happy Joy Joy

  6. todd 6

    In part, National’s plan is designed to minimize any avenues of redress. National obviously predict a backlash against their failing regime and backwards policies. Removing institutions that can facilitate will mean the people have little choice but to express their grievances in other more destructive ways.

    • ZeeBop 6.1

      The left talk too much sense. Where’s the rage over lightbulbs? I mean how
      hard could it be to lie about say a old person denied the benefit because they
      were thought dead. When the government is a reckless recidivist liar you
      have no choice, you have to talk to the language of complacency. When
      government says we need to cut and infer that’s because the books are
      so bad, you demand why National aren’t protecting farm profits how
      can we afford to live if at the height of the commodities boom we can
      make diddly squat advance.

      Its bloody minded stupidity that will the election. National have it cornered.
      When National says welfare provides incentives for sloth, why do mothers
      on DPB get to leave their kids unchanged, unfed, and government is doing
      nothing about it. Those kids should be in government protection!

      Its the inane reckless disregard that National and Key have that is te
      greatest hurdle the left have to get over. And the only way to do so is
      to be more inane and reckless (based on National reckless assumptions
      so its National ideology up in the dock) and make the case that its
      trust National or trust Labour, force people to look behind the lies.
      But no Labour are too soft to put a few ratbags in a room and get
      some dozies that unhinge National.

      National went to the election with lightbulbs, innuendo that National
      were so strong on government they could make fun of Labour.
      True in on them. Debt is a huge problem (its not), so demand why
      we all work so damn hard and are at the top of our game (commodities)
      and National have to cut cut cut, can you work any harder?

  7. queenstfarmer 7

    Your complaint is that they are doing too little (“All they’ve identified is merging a handful of minor agencies.”), but efficiency gains have to start somewhere.

    • ianmac 7.1

      The experts tell me that any organisation must keep adjusting according to need and changing forces. The Public Service say that they are doing that all the time for the benefit of efficiency. (Parkinson’s Law said that if a business tries to consolidate and be static it will be the start of failure. To survive adjust.) The Public Service complaint is that when adjustments are made for political reasons it disrupts without gain, and you lose the experise while you are at it.
      Just as National Standards were introduced for political reasons, the effect is also disruptive rather than constructive.

    • marsman 7.2

      ‘Efficiency’ is the catch-cry, but strangely enough it’s never explained how cutting costs and staff will provide efficiency. It’s the same as ‘ the market will provide’, and ‘level playing field’ , they are all neoliberal bullshit obfuscations.

      • queenstfarmer 7.2.1

        The proposals do set out the expected gains. Whether they are acheived or not is, of course, another matter.

        • marsman 7.2.1.1

          ‘expecting’ a gain is how this NAct Administration works, it’s no more than bullying and wishful thinking.

          • queenstfarmer 7.2.1.1.1

            Bullying? Not really. It’s like a grower who takes 100 bags of apples to the local market might “expect” to make $1 per bag.

            But the proof will be in the pudding. If NActMaoriUnited make a total balls up of it (like in the early 90s) then the public should hold them accountable.

            • McFlock 7.2.1.1.1.1

              Nope – it’s like a grower who sends a worker to market with 100 bags of apples and claims to “expect” $1 per bag, when they have no basis for that expectation whatsoever.

              • marsman

                Exactly McFlock. The Jackel calls it ‘Alice in Wonderland Logic’.

              • queenstfarmer

                You might have a reasonable expectation, or not. But the point is, it aint “bullying”.

                I don’t think the public has any problem with Govts setting high expections for efficiently use of their money (even though the public has low expections of Govts in making it happen).

                • McFlock

                  The boss either has repercussions in mind if the “expectations” are met, or not.

                  If the boss will exact retribution  from their worker if the worker does not achieve completely unfounded expectations, this is pretty much an exercise in power for the sake of it – bullying.

                  If the boss will make no fundamental change to the worker’s conditions if the “expectation” is not reached, then it’s not really an expectation, is it? It’s just a pointless waste of space.

                  So either the NACTs are bullies, or their “restructuring” is a pointless waste of space. You choose.

  8. Afewknowthetruth 8

    John Key has never sounded sane and reasonable to me. He has always sounded like a self-serving liar, who is supported by a humungous propaganda machine.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, we are in the early stages of environmental meltdown, as well as economic meltdown. Latest data indicates a huge surge in CO2 emissions which are adding to the pot that is coming to the boil:

    New Zealand sweltered through its hottest May since record-keeping began … but the weather was hardly perfect, as some areas were drenched in more than double their usual rainfall.

    Figures issued today by climate agency Niwa showed that May was 2.3C warmer than usual.

    The average monthly temperature was 13.1C, a heat normally expected for April.

    The previous hottest May, recorded in 2007, had a mean temperature of 12.4C.

    Niwa’s principal climate scientist, James Renwick, said the numbers were extraordinary and unusual.

    “A monthly jump of two degrees is extremely unusual – it’s a surprisingly big step up,” he said.

    “We’ve had a very strong La Nina event in the tropics since about August last year, which brings weather from the north over New Zealand and warmer air down from the sub-tropics.”

    Mr Renwick said the warm tropical air flow also caused the destructive storms and flooding which hit the Bay of Plenty at the end of April.

    “The warmer the air, the more water it can carry, which is why the areas which were the warmest, like the eastern Bay of Plenty, also had more than double their average rainfall.

    “So it’s been very wet in a lot of places and very warm, but with not a lot of sunshine.”

    At the start of May, eastern areas of the North Island were battered by torrential rain and gale force winds which caused widespread flooding and a state of emergency in Hawkes Bay.

    Later in the month, Nelson’s rivers were pushed to bursting point when the region had 3.5 times its normal rainfall. But its temperature was 3.5C warmer than normal.

    At Whakatane, the airport raingauge showed the region had 2.5 times its normal rainfall.

    Mr Renwick said the La Nina event, which was responsible for the record-high temperature, also caused the tornado which tore through Auckland’s North Shore at the start of the month, killing a man at Albany.

    “To get a vigorous tornado, you’ve got to get a vigorous thunderstorm,” said Mr Renwick.

    “And for that to happen you’ve got to have a lot of moisture in the air and energy.”

    He said global warming had increased New Zealand’s average temperature by about 1C in the past hundred years, so other heat records were becoming more and more likely.

    “It makes it easier to get a warm month because the background temperature keeps increasing.”

  9. Lifeboat Captain 9

    Tough job to sort out the Clark Legacy of “lets kill the Golden Geese and foster feed some chooks”. Key may not be the brightest boy on the block, but at least he is trying to get some bouyancy into the economy by cutting past rampant expenditure. Also he is not trying to load the boat with more lead and killing the engines as “generous to a T with the public purse ole Helen baby” was doing. First thing to do is mend the massive hole in the purse and build from there. Question is what did we do to deserve ole Helen baby in the first place? We must have been very bad little chappies!!! It will take a couple of decades to catch up to where we should be right now. Becoming a State of Australia is getting closer.

    • marsman 9.1

      ‘Let’s kill the golden geese’, let’s sell our assets to pay for tax-cuts for the rich! Helen Clarke was one of New Zealand’s greatest Prime Ministers, John Key, like Jenny Shipley is an insult to the people of New Zealand.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.2

      This government were the ones who put the “massive hole in the purse” in the first place when they cut taxes.

  10. Dotty 10

    I think the problem here is one of ideology and fashion.

    First, it was fashionable to point out all the problems of scale and conglomeration. And the fashionable solution was to decentralise.

    Then the problems of decentralisation were identified and so networking became the new fashion.

    Then the problems of networking (extra bureaucrats to do all the coordination and work on cross-agency plans) were highlighted.

    And so now the problem is one of cost – how much it costs to duplicate HR, IT and Chief executives across a myriad of small agencies. And so the solution is to conglomerate and create scale.

    One day, not too far into the future, someone will point out all the problems of scale and conglomeration, and the whole thing will start again.

    This is what happens when you take an ideological approach to public sector structure and design, instead of evidence-based approach: you ignore the problems with your solution and charge ahead anyway, playing up the benefits and playing down all the risks and problems.

    Until the next time you need to be seen to do something. Then you latch onto whatever is the fashion of the day. And ignore all its downsides… ad infinitum.

    There is nothing efficient about this approach to management at all! It actually costs a lot – reorganisations are very expensive and damage staff morale and destroy institutional knowledge.

    But it does keep the SSC and the senior policy advisors very busy.

  11. Bored 11

    I had to laugh at the concept that slimming down and amalgamating government departments would reduce costs. Years in commerce have taught me the cost of a transaction can be decreased BUT almost without fail at the expense of delivery. To put it simply, cut out the people and you cut out cost BUT people working hard already wont deliver you more…..so you lose delivery.

    Which brings us to a conclusion: this is all about reducing delivery to the public of government services, reducing the costs so that the money can be reallocated (to pay for tax cuts etc).

    What has not been considered except in the most cynical off hand financial way is the impact upon standards of delivery and the basic principles of separation of powers etc. A good example is the combination of NZQA with ERO. There is a very good reason why you keep the setting and assessment of standards (NZQA) away from those assessing the effectiveness of delivery by the educators (ERO). The same could be said for the plan to undermine legal aid in the Courts.

    In short what National are attempting is the reduction of the rights and benefits of citizenship to a cost benefit basis. Principles of justice, fairness, public service are to be victim to the dollar. You will become what ACT was set up to achieve, a consumer (if you had the money) as opposed to a citizen.

    • Dotty 11.1

      Efficiency is desirable but not at the expense of effectiveness. Which is why each case needs to be looked at on its merits – there are some examples where small independent agencies have a purpose that is lost if they lose their size and independence* – instead of all being forced to fit the fashion of the day.

      * e.g. Archives NZ

  12. Irascible 12

    At the last count the Key led NACT Govt has been embroiled in more shady and shonkey deals involving Cabinet Ministers rorting the taxpayer, more profligate and ostentatious spending in order to look like celebrities and bigger cost over runs from legislative muck ups (Auckland City for example) than any government in recent NZ history. There’s our leaking holes that need repair. There’s aur big problem as a nation.

  13. deservingpoor 13

    “Tough job to sort out the Clark Legacy of “lets kill the Golden Geese and foster feed some chooks”. Key may not be the brightest boy on the block, but at least he is trying to get some bouyancy into the economy by cutting past rampant expenditure”

    Ok, I’ll play. I’ve seen comments like this at some point on pretty much every thread I’ve ever read on this site. Correct me if I’m wrong but Labour left office with a 2 billion dollar net surplus and record low unemployment. So I really don’t see the problem with their “generous to a T with the public purse ole Helen baby”
    It obviously worked better than the current government’s tax and slash policies.

  14. side show bob 14

    I must admit to knowing sweet piss all about the PS but I’ve meet some brilliant people who reside in the PS. At the same time these people are trapped by the bureaucracy of the very departments they serve. The PS has become obese and ineffective, how you fix it, no idea but that’s not my job. I just Know that it’s broke.

    • People dislike bureaucracy, but that’s often because they have very little personal experience of immense scale and complexity. If you try to discuss anything complicated with most people their eyes glaze over and they run away as quickly as possible.

      A public servant’s job – day in and day out – is to handle scale and complexity head on. Most problems have been seen before…and solved. But you need the people there who have experience of the problems and who can connect them with the solutions already arrived at. It isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we overblown monkeys have been able to come with so far……

      There is a vast body of specialist knowledge and experience embedded in the public service. This is something the average person isn’t directly aware of and often fails to appreciate….even many Cabinet Ministers. So like any good idiot in a corporate, they will lobotomize the public service imagining they are saving money by trashing its institutional memory….and the result will the opposite due to the waste they create and avoidable mistakes that will now certainly be made.

      The sad part is, we’ve been here before. National trashed the public service in the 90s..and crippled it. Labour spent most of a decade rebuilding its capacity and now National is trashing it again.

      The problem I see now is that this time of transition to peak oil and climate change is exactly the wrong time to wasteful wreckers running any country.

      All we can do in November is not vote for National or ACT….and make sure we vote for MMP on the first question and STV on the second. If MMP were to lose the first question, I want it to be run off against the only other proportional system on offer….so we end up with a PR voting system no matter what.

      • R 14.1.1

        ‘There is a vast body of specialist knowledge and experience embedded in the public service. This is something the average person isn’t directly aware of and often fails to appreciate….even many Cabinet Ministers.’

        Defo, hear hear.

    • marsman 14.2

      How many ‘consultants’ are NAct hiring to replace the ‘obese and ineffective’ Public Servants shoved out for the sake of ‘efficiency and cost saving’?

  15. logie97 15

    Somehow the right are managing to make public servants appear to be “foreigner enemies of the state.” A different category of New Zealand citizen.

    What appears to escape them is that their little dairy-on-the-corner-owner-operator who has consistently voted Right, will go down the gurgler with the cuts envisaged in the public sector – because these “enemies of the state” actually keep the circulation of cash running for the smaller businesses.

    Another group who consistently prop up the Right are the grubby landlords (the ones incidentally who have helped to create the massive private debt levels). They have built portfolios of rental properties and will find that their tenancies will fail (many of the landlords know that the “accommodation supplement” is automatically theirs.) If Petulant Bean manages to get her way for another 3 years then there will be a lot of empty, heavily mortgaged rental properties around.

    Actually the real enemies of the state were the zealots who removed exchange controls, allowing the free flow of capital in and out of the country. Wouldn’t mind betting that a large portion of the recent tax cuts has already been salted away in foreign bank accounts, but the Treasury has no way of knowing.

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