Tip of the spear

Written By: - Date published: 12:32 pm, June 2nd, 2009 - 16 comments
Categories: Media, national, spin - Tags: , , ,

You’ve done your job as a spin doctor when journalists start repeating your spin sub-consciously.

The credit downgrade ‘issue’ is a great example. There was never any threat of a downgrade, as long as the tax cuts were dropped. The journalists all acted like there was a huge threat. They parroted the government’s line that the Budget had to avoid this non-existent threat at all costs. Then praised the government for seeing off the bogeyman.

Some even got so caught up that they said S & P had upgraded our credit because it took us off negative watch (which is just a warning that we might have been downgraded at some point in the future). Funny because no-one said we were downgraded when we went on to negative watch in in February. Going on to negative watch wasn’t a downgrade. Coming off it can’t be an upgrade.

Actually, this post is meant to be about another line. The ‘frontline’. You’re starting to see this line mindlessly repeated in the media too. ’70 jobs cut from IT at ACC to move resources to the frontline’. Good spin bypasses your targets’ critical faculties and that’s what this line is doing. No thinking person would take the line seriously because it implies that all an organisation needs are service deliverers and that people supporting that delivery are pointless but the media are acting as if that’s the case.

An analogy. The US army has combat squads. The ‘frontline’ of its ‘service delivery’. Known as the tip of the spear. For every member of a combat unit whose job is to actually fight the enemy there are more than ten soldiers in what Key would call ‘back office’ jobs. All modern armies are the same. Very few actual ‘war-fighters’ backed by a large support system. Now, an idiot might say ‘put more of those useless support people at the front’. Any sensible commander, though, knows its better to have, say, a 50-man vehicle maintenance crew then 50 more combat soldiers and unreliable vehicles. There’s far more value-added to combat units’ ability to fought by having an effect support system than having an army full of combat troops with no support system. The combat troops are the tip of the spear but that’s nothing without the shaft behind it.

Simply pouring all your resources into the frontline doesn’t always make sense. Its what armies do as an absolute last resort when they’ve already lost. In terms of the public service, what’s going to happen now when ACC’s IT systems go down? Are ‘frontline’ staff going to have to try to solve the problems themselves, inefficiently and ineffectively? Are they going to have to try to get in contractors who don’t know the system, while ‘frontline’ staff sit idle at their useless computers? It’s stupid to even talk of a frontline really. The service deliverers are part of an interdependent system. Each part is needed to provide the service effectively and efficiently.

The dumb thing is that we have been down this path before, We know where it ends. National gutted the public service last time it was on office too. Left us with a system that could barely do the basics like carry out an election.

16 comments on “Tip of the spear”

  1. Jono 1

    An example from DOC, where I used to work (fron memory).

    The Conservancy which manages 150,000 ha has ~150 staff and an annual budget of about $12 million. The Conservancy has four area offices doing delivery and one conservancy office providing support.

    In the Area offices there are:
    60 frontline/field staff focussed on doing delivery in the field
    50 staff with mixed rolls involving mostly delivery and some management (of small budgets, projects or the staff above on a day to day level)
    24 Programme Managers managing 6-8 staff from the above
    4 Area managers with the delegated authorities and accountabilities for the abo

    In the Conservancy there are:
    20 specialist technical support staff providing service to the above and support via the Conservator to Head Office (eg RMA and planning, terrestrial and marine biodiversity, flora and fauna, historic advice etc)
    10 GIS, finance and admin staff providing service to the above and support via the Conservator to Head Office
    1 Conservator managing the whole shebang

    Question 1 Who is front office and who is back office?
    Question 2 How is this different in terms of ratios of front to back office staff to the private sector, and
    Question 3 if this isnt the ideal ratio of front to back office as exhibited by the private sector, what is?

  2. Bill 2

    “John A. Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, chose to read aloud from an instant-message conversation between two S&P employees in the firm’s structured product division.

    Official 1: By the way, that deal is ridiculous

    Official 2: I know, right. The model definitely doesn’t capture half the risk.

    Official 1: We should not be rating it

    Official 2: We rate every deal. It could be structured by cows and we would rate it

    Official 1: There is a lot of risk associated with it. I personally don’t feel comfy signing off as a committee member”

    And the security was rated


    That’s the same S&P that the Nats posit as sages? The same S&P who threatened Bitains AAA rating? The same S&P the msm in NZ are taking seriously?

    • Phil (not Goff) 2.1

      This is pretty ignorant from someone supposedly as smart as a Democratic congressman.

      Anyone with half a brain will know that S&P don’t just take a big stamp and thump “AAA” of “BB+” on a piece of paper after banging some numbers into a calculator. There’s a lot of background work, and then fairly detailed documentation that is published with the rating. I would be 99% confident that these ‘uncalculable’ risks would have been noted, discussed, and disclosed in the final report attached to the rating.

      If you, or I, or a congressman from Kentucy, don’t bother reading the report…

  3. This is a very good post. so ta

  4. fyi, in 99 when Labour came into govt, some govt departments had to hire external consultants to come in to prepare BIMs (briefing for incoming ministers) because the departments had been so run down in the 1990s they didn’t have the skill or capacity to do it themselves. Lets hope it doesn’t get to that level this time around

  5. Lanthanide 5

    “There was never any threat of a downgrade, as long as the tax cuts were dropped.”

    Proof please.

    • Maynard J 5.1

      The proof is in your tears.

      Maybe you should have a go at rebutting the statement before making demands. Give people a reason to listen to you.

      • Lanthanide 5.1.1

        No, I just want proof. He’s going on about spin, and makes his own spin statement with nothing in support of it.

        For the record I voted Labour for the last two elections I have been eligible to vote in and I think National are running the country into the ground. Of course that doesn’t give me any more or less grounds to demand proof to support his statements than if I voted Act.

        “Maybe you should have a go at rebutting the statement before making demands.” This is my rebuttal. I want proof it is actually the case. You can’t just blithely assert something that you’d like to be the truth, and then pat yourself on the back for your great analytical skills based on something you just made up.

        • Jasper

          either prioritising its spending or just doing what it needs to do to rein in some of those operating deficits that were articulated in the fiscal and economic update in December.

          In other words, drop the cuts


          Although we view such deficits as not uncommon given the cyclical weakening of tax revenue, market confidence may wane until policy makers articulate a plan for medium-term fiscal consolidation, given country’s external position,’ S&P said.

          So.. weakening tax revenue… medium-term fiscal consolidation…

          In other words, drop the tax cuts, or hike them.

          Captcha: That Tryst.

          Entirely appropriate.

        • Maynard J

          Do you think if you offered a reason you believed it to be wrong would be a more useful approach? A demand for proof is no a rebuttal. If you think that a statement is wrong there must be something to make you think so – start with that. These bloggers are not paid to answer your questions (although someone nice like Jasper might do the research you chose not to).

  6. aj 6

    If the human resource was being moved from the backroom to the frontline as claimed nett numbers employed would not change. The fact that people are losing their jobs just shows what BS that line is.

  7. JakeQuinn,
    It WILL get that bad, I hear Ministers on the radio, I hear cost-cutting.
    Vote for change, vote dreanged. ThRedJack

  8. Rex Widerstrom 8

    That’s rather like saying that provided one’s frontline faculties are operating (like, say, speech) there’s no need to have such a lot of energy being wasted on support functions (like, say, logic and reasoning).

    Oh, wait…

  9. Ianmac 9

    There are 3 agencies who give declare credit ratings aren’t there? Only Standard and Poors hinted that things might be a bit shaky. The other two did nothing of the sort.

    • Lindsey 9.1

      National Radio at 5pm news said we had had a credit upgrade! Is this ignorance, stupidity or laziness?

  10. The Baron 10

    Better than your usual partisan rubbish, Zettie…

    Nevertheless, Labour poured utter shedloads of cash into the back of the house during their 9 years, all for no real measurable increase in performance. Health, as always, is the great example here.

    If we borrow your analogy, it sounds like those combat troops have got way, way to much of a maintenance crew – and we all know what an army like that would look like. See these same generals that you hail here understand that things need to be in balance, otherwise tihngs go awry… like a massacre of maintenance crew, cos they have not enough soliders to do the hard yards…

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Swiss tax agreement tightens net
    Opportunities to dodge tax are shrinking with the completion of a new tax agreement with Switzerland, Revenue Minister Stuart Nash announced today. Mr Nash and the Swiss Ambassador David Vogelsanger have today signed documents to update the double tax agreement (DTA). The previous DTA was signed in 1980. “Double tax ...
    2 weeks ago