Multiple "Relationship Strains": Education Secretary Resigns
19 December, 2012
By Mark P. Williams
At midday today the State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie held a press conference to announce that the Education Secretary, Lesley Longstone, would be resigning. The conference was held at short notice, but the SSC said that the decision for Ms Longstone to leave had been arrived at jointly and that it was a decision which had been taken some two to three weeks earlier.
He said that the Ministry would now be focused on rebuilding relationships. Mr Rennie described Ms Longstone as a highly capable and dedicated professional. He said that further details of Ms Longstone's severance package will be released in the New Year.
Mr Rennie said that in the interim, Peter Hughes, Professor of Public Management at Victoria University, would be employed as Acting Secretary for Education from the 9th February 2013. He thanked Victoria University for supporting this secondment.
Recruitment for the permanent role will begin in the New Year.
Mr Rennie then took detailed questions from the press.
Mr Rennie was asked what the "critical relationships" in question were. He responded that a number of education sector groups had challenging relationships. It was also confirmed that the case that the relationship between the Secretary of Education and the Education Minister Hekia Parata had been strained.
Mr Rennie was then asked if the relationship with the Minister was a decisive factor. He responded that the relationship was an important factor.
Mr Rennie was then asked whether Hekia
Parata had wanted Ms Longstone to resign. He responded that
the decision for the Education Secretary to resign had been
made in discussion between himself and Ms Longstone.
Mr Rennie was asked how long he had been talking about the resignation. He responded that it had been going on for three to four weeks.
Mr Rennie was asked who initiated the talks. He responded that they had both come to the conclusion that the Ministry's best interests would be served by her resignation.
Mr Rennie was asked whether the Secretary for Education was taking responsibility for the recent education "stuff ups". He responded that he did not talk about the performance of Chief Executives in public.
Mr Rennie was asked whether he had invited her to resign. He insisted that it was a joint decision, saying: "We came up with it at the same meeting."
Mr Rennie was then asked who would be taking responsibility for the current pay issues. He responded that Ms Longstone remained in charge until early February and said that Ms Longstone continued to be responsible until then, adding that she was committed to work with her staff to deal with such issues until she leaves.
Mr Rennie was asked whether she would be "fronting up" on Friday if there were further pay issues on Friday. He responded that the Ministry would continue to be responsible for issues with its performance.
Mr Rennie was asked if Ms Longstone's being from the UK was an issue in working in the New Zealand education sector. He responded that this was not the case.
Mr Rennie was asked whether the Education Minister had raised concerns about Ms Longstone's performance. He reiterated that he would not discuss his Chief Executive's performance in public.
Mr Rennie was asked whether the Minister had lost confidence in Ms Longstone as Chief Executive. He said that those words had not been used to him.
Mr Rennie was asked whether, "in layman's terms", the taxpayer was providing a "golden handshake" for the Secretary's resignation. He responded that there was "consideration" for the fact that Ms Longstone's contract was ending early, adding that it would be well within the guidelines set by the Auditor General for such payments. Pressed further he indicated that he would be making the figure public but that he was not yet in a position to do so as it had not been finalised.
Mr Rennie was asked whether the Christchurch restructuring was a major factor. He responded that it was difficult to point towards any single issue.
Mr Rennie was asked whether Ms Longstone was standing by her earlier statements on matters such as Novopay. He reiterated that he would not be discussing the performance of a Chief Executive in a public forum.
Mr Rennie was again asked precisely when the decision had been taken for Ms Longstone to go. He responded that it was "two or three weeks ago".
Mr Rennie was asked why it had taken two weeks to come to the resignation decision and if it indicated that she was unwilling to go. He responded that it was the case that it had taken time to discuss possible options.
Mr Rennie was asked whether Ms Longstone wished to stay in New Zealand. He responded her personal plans were a question for her. He was then asked whether he would employ her again in some other role and responded that she was highly capable and dedicated professional "so yes, for the right role".
Mr Rennie was asked whether it was a sign that when a public servant clashes with a Minister, "no matter the rights or wrongs", the public servant will always come off "second best". He responded by saying that "from time to time Chief Executives and Ministers will have strained relationships", and said that his responsibility was considering how the Ministry could "go forward".
Mr Rennie was asked which element took precedent: the relationship with the Minister or with other groups within the education sector. He responded that he did not "analyse" individual elements but rather looked at the situation "in the round".
Mr Rennie was asked whether he would talk to the Minister about the concerns raised over the relationship between the Secretary and the Minister. He said that in this case the matter had been resolved by the decision for the Secretary to move on
Mr Rennie was asked if there were issues between Ms Longstone and Hekia Parata's sister, April Parata. He responded that he was not aware of any.
Mr Rennie was asked if he was ruling out the idea that this resignation was connected to either Novopay or the Ministry's handling of Christchurch school mergers and closures. He said that, no, it was a question of multiple issues being best solved by Ms Longstone leaving.
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