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Speech To The Public Servants Senior Manager Forum

Minister Of State Services
Speech To The Public Servants Senior Manager Forum
Wednesday 8th March 2000

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I've been asked to speak on Values in the Public Service and, while I am here as Minister of State Services, I'd like to first speak briefly in my role as Minister of Education.

There's a project partly funded by the Ministry of Education called Living Values which 20 schools around the country have been taken part in since the beginning of last year. It formalises the notion of 'values education' so that schools are not only helping their students gain an education and qualifications but are helping them to develop a code for living.

It tackles the dilemma of whose values should be taught and reinforced by setting out a process by which the school community – the staff, the parents, and the students – develop a set of common values around four key areas.

Now I'm not planning to reward public servants with hamburgers as one school I read about gives its students for good behaviour. But there are parallels between this project and what the Government wants to achieve within the public service.
Just over 100 days ago, New Zealanders voted for a change in direction. They voted for a Government with different priorities and different objectives. As part of that change it is timely to reassess the role of the public service in meeting those priorities and objectives. It is time to set out clean expectations of this Government, revitalise the notion of public service, and refresh the values and codes of conduct. The Chief Executives of government departments need to continually promulgate the values and standards of behaviour across their individual organisations – not merely rely on a 'code of conduct' manual sitting on the shelf and collecting dust. This ongoing communication on ethics is vital in the current employment environment where people don’t hold 'jobs for life' and movement occurs between the private and public sectors. Chief Executives need to oversee systems for professional training and development in all areas of competency. Afterall, this is what leadership is all about.

But let me start by saying this. The Government believes that public service departments and other state agencies are critical elements of a functioning democracy. You have a vital contribution to make in creating an efficient, equitable and dynamic nation.

However in many ways, dissatisfaction with the National Government was fed by public perception of a culture of waste and extravagance within the public service, and more widely within the state sector.

The WINZ charter flights, the HFA's furniture, the large golden handshakes. They all fuelled this perception and tarnished the concept of 'public service'. In the same way that politicians are often publicly admonished for the misdeeds of a few, unethical behaviour and lapses in judgment and accountability where there is any element of public ownership, paints a shadow over all of us.

That may be unfair, but it is unlikely to change. We must learn to live with that and work within those constraints.

Public agencies need to be more transparent and accountable than those in the private sector, for moral and legal reasons.

Life is a bit more complex than in the private sector. We do not work in businesses where there is, generally speaking, one bottom line – to make a profit for the owners.

In the public sector the aim is to achieve the Government’s strategic goals, and in doing so, work in a system where transparency and accountability are paramount. The moral imperatives arise because public agencies are using other people’s money. The legal imperatives, such as the “right to know”, are enshrined in statutes like the Official Information Act and others that impose strict standards on financial reporting.

And unlike the private sector, the risk is not limited to financial, but extends to the risk of failing to meet the expectations of large sections of society.

Public administration is dominated by a fragmentation into stand alone administrative units and a contractualist output model for determining what those units do and how they get paid for what they do. We're talking about values today. To me it is difficult to see how values can be reduced to contractual form and purchased.

The public administration model needs to shift away from the narrow business values and recast the full hierarchy of value and ethics that need to guide government operations.

The desire to improve efficiency has created a certain imbalance – with financial competency taking too great a priority over other dimensions of competence – like capacity to develop and deliver services.

And this Government is committed to service delivery and to taking responsibility for quality service delivery. In doing so, I would like to make jobs in the public sector more positive.

 To look closely at issues surrounding conditions, morale and directions.
 To build capacity through better career structures, opportunities and professional development.

I'd like to encourage greater co-operation in the public service - an end to the patch mentality. Unlike in the private sector, components of the administration are neither stand alone nor in competition with each other. One agency cannot congratulate itself for cost savings if the pieces then have to be picked up by another. In the end, the funds all come from the same pot. The government is indivisible; it has to take a whole of government view of its performance.

This is going to be particularly important as we strive to meet one of our key objectives - that of closing the social and economic gaps that have developed between Maori and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders.

That challenge – more than any other shows the need to co-ordinate operations across departments to ensure maximum overall effectiveness, and especially to avoid policies in one area conflicting with the aims of those being applied in another. The executive is leading the approach in this area – with the Prime Minister chairing the committee which will oversee that work. The appointment of Associate Maori Affairs Ministers with additional Ministerial responsibilities in most of the key portfolio areas is a further sign of the commitment to closing the gaps.

I hope that our leadership in this area will be reflected in a more co-operative approach within the public service to dealing with the very real problems that face some sections of our society. Operating in silos is far from desirable.

Effective public services are inherently fair. They are fair to the taxpaying public, fair to public service employees, fair to those who are regulated, and fair to those who receive services. The government expects government departments to build up an internal culture that applies tests of fairness to decisions about what is done, and how it is done. In a well functioning department, this should be virtually instinctive.

Effective public services are responsive to the diverse needs of groups and individuals. They respond to notions of natural justice and the rule of law; not to narrow tests of operating within the letter of the law.

Like the challenges we face in our closing the gaps objective, the challenges we face in rebuilding capability in the public service and regaining public faith and trust in government, cannot be achieved overnight or without the support of public servants.

They may require legislative change, or changes to the roles of the central agencies, or to the way Cabinet is structured and run. These are issues which we need to examine carefully. But there are certain practices that no government can legislate for - practices that reflect integrity as the motivating ethic of public administration. Yet it is that integrity that ultimately legitimises the exercise of Government authority in the eyes of the general public.

Commitment to public service is no longer used casually or taken for granted. But it is what this Government places at the heart of the public sector accountability regime.

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