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Mallard: Govt priorities for the public service

Trevor Mallard Speech: Government priorities for the public service

Speech to the Public Service Senior Managers Conference, Te Papa, Wellington.

Thank you for the invitation to speak today.

I have been asked to speak about the government's evolving agenda for public management – the state of the State. Firstly, I want to reflect on the highlights and achievements in the public management area over the last year.

Secondly, I will talk in more depth about our three priorities for the years ahead – ensuring more home-grown leaders, continuing to reinforce public service values and doing better for Mâori.

It is often stated, “the only thing constant in life is change”. Many of you, who have spent many years as public servants, will have experienced this reality. The purpose of the public service is to get results for the government of the day. This means the operating context and priorities inevitably change - sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly.

Given constant change, those who pursue a long term career in the public service are more likely to end it in a different operating environment from the one in which their career began.

The development of our public management system over the last three decades can be summarised as: Pre-1984 - dominated by bureaucracy and process; 1984-2000 - development of managerialism and outputs; 2000 on - moving towards leadership and outcomes. Post 2000, this government’s priority has been to get better performance from the system without jeopardising its high standards, nor its reputation for cost efficiency.

To put this into real life, before 1984 it took six weeks to get an initial benefit payment; now assessment and payment are much quicker, and emergency benefits for food and shelter are available on the day.

In the future we want to be able to initiate integrated, effective, people-centred case management and service delivery, which involves a number of agencies working together to address the underlying issues.

Last year at PSSM, I spoke about the work programme arising from the 2001 Review of the Centre.

Ministers commissioned the Review because we wished to deliver on our promise to maintain and strengthen the state sector.

To borrow a phrase from the PSA, the Review of the Centre was a simple title that has now evolved to mask “a bewildering array of projects, reviews, working groups and policy papers”.

However, at the heart of all of these initiatives is improving the delivery and quality of government services to people.

Some of these initiatives are particularly important for the government

For example the establishment of the ‘Executive Leadership Programme’ – a new senior leadership and management development programme for you, the senior managers in the public service.

Strengthening core public service capability is another important process, notably through a whole-of-government human resource framework, and broadening the State Services Commissioner’s mandate to lead on values and standards.

We are also interested in the focus on finding solutions collaboratively and locally, demonstrated by the establishment of trial multi-agency “circuit breaker” teams for difficult issues.

There is also the research work going on into innovation, aimed at encouraging the introduction of a strong culture of experimentation within the public service through finding out 'what works'.

The changes to agency accountability and reporting systems is putting more emphasis on achieving high level objectives and priorities. And we are making improvements to the governance of Crown entities to improve the clarity of relationships between ministers, departments and Crown entities to assist whole-of-government action. This will be enacted soon through legislation – the Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill.

It is in this context I want to talk about where I consider priorities for improving public management should lie.

The performance of any organisation depends to a large part on the quality of its leadership. We need to invest now to build up a 'talent bank' of public service leaders for the future.

Earlier this year the government announced a new collective public service approach to senior leadership and management development – supported by a funding commitment of $9.8 million over four years.

The main aim of this strategy is to build a group of talented managers of the required quality, quantity and diversity to meet the future needs of the public service. And this is likely to extend over time to the wider public sector.

There are three parts to the strategy: improving our ability to predict the leaders of tomorrow; ensuring suitable development programmes are available; and developing more leadership talent.

A major aspect of the strategy is the Executive Leadership Programme. This programme is for those who aspire to and are almost ready for a senior leadership role in the public service but need up to three years further targeted development.

The benchmark for entry to the programme is high. And the programme is starting small. This year the intake will be between 25 and 40 people.

I’d like to encourage aspiring leaders, and those of you who have talented people in your teams, to aim for this programme.

Those of you who are already in very senior roles are also being catered for under the new development strategy. For example, with the establishment of the Executive Fellowship Programmes, being run through the Australia and New Zealand School of Government.

Whilst we are investing in developing more home grown leaders, I also acknowledge that we need to invest in the skills of the other 30,000 public servants as well.

We need to ensure the public service is an employer of choice for young people and remains a career of choice for people on a career pathway.

It is recognised that the public service cannot always compete on price, so we have to grow and retain staff through other advantages.

These include opportunities for professional development; a work environment characterised by diversity, opportunity and fairness; and a culture that values staff and recognises the contribution they make to our society.

We have a partnership approach to working with unions - as symbolised through the Partnership for Quality agreement and a new commitment to a superannuation scheme for state sector employees - as announced yesterday at the PSA conference.

The new government scheme will see state employers match employee contributions to their retirement savings, and is an important step towards rebuilding the public sector after the cutbacks of the 1990s. This scheme meets some important government objectives. As I said earlier, we are dedicated to building a strong public service and we are also intent on promoting retirement savings amongst employees. This scheme models the type of arrangements which the government would like other employers to develop and it is also a good recruitment and retention device.

It is estimated the scheme will cost $19 million in year one, and $32 million in year two.

I am strongly recommending the scheme and will be carefully watching the take up rates across agencies, which will be a good indication of both organisational and individual intelligence.

Today, the State Services Commission has also launched a new resource, which takes a whole of government approach to promoting careers in the public service. It reinforces that the public service is a good place in which to work.

The publication will complement the New Zealand government jobs website – jobs.govt.nz .

I encourage all agencies to post vacancies on this website. It is a great way to promote the range of jobs on offer in the public service. It is free of charge and increasingly used by prospective candidates for state sector jobs.

The State Services Commission is also exploring hosting local government jobs on this site as well, so it could well become a one stop shop for the kinds of people we want to recruit.

The second priority I wish to discuss today is the importance of continuing to reinforce public service values and standards.

Over the last two years, with my full support, the Commissioner has given public service values a high profile and encouraged chief executives and senior managers to do the same.

While the New Zealand Public Service Code of Conduct sets out the minimum standards of integrity and conduct that are to apply in the public service, a Code of Conduct is only one part of a bigger programme of leadership on values and standards that all government organisations need.

The constantly changing environment I referred to earlier requires a shared understanding of what values mean in practice. Discussing pressures and risks, and how to manage them before they arise, gives public servants confidence to face situations and make the right judgements about how to act.

A good example of this is the current temptations provided by offers of tickets to the Rugby World Cup finals – such gifts are inappropriate for public servants to accept, not only because of their dollar value but also because of the potential for accusations of personal benefit and preferential treatment towards those able to offer such inducements.

When people behave in a way that appears to be outside the values and standards that are expected, often it is because they genuinely thought they were doing the right thing at the time.

There are many resources available to help. For example, the State Services Commission has recently produced a series of fact sheets which answer many common questions about political neutrality.

One of the big changes for the Commissioner for the coming year, and into the future, is the extension of the Commissioner’s role on setting minimum standards in the state sector.

Ordinary New Zealanders do not distinguish between the legal forms of state sector organisations. Nor should they. The same principles of integrity and service should underpin their operations. The same high standards of conduct should apply to their employees.

Legislation is being drafted to extend the mandate of the State Services Commissioner to set minimum standards of conduct and integrity (and by implication to lead and reinforce these standards) from the 36 public service departments to approximately 100 organisations within the state sector, as well as close to 2,600 school boards of trustees.

Values have other dimensions beyond honesty and integrity. Innovation and judicious risk taking can take place more safely in an environment where good values are strongly held and reinforced from the top.

Those same values, shared across the organisations of the state sector, can make effective collaboration that much easier.

The third priority I wish to discuss today is the need to do better for Mâori. The public service must respond to the needs of Mâori as citizens, employees and parties to the Treaty of Waitangi. Mâori and Pacific peoples are more highly represented in the public service than in the employed labour force. They are not similarly represented at senior management level. This is something that I hope the new leadership strategy will address.

Mâori are also more highly represented in the many of the target groups that your agencies are working with - particularly in the social policy area.

As the public service evolves towards a focus on delivering results, there should be more clarity about what departments are trying to achieve. There should also be a tailoring of services to suit the individual or community needs and different ways of looking at service delivery.

All provide opportunities to achieve better results for Mâori. And better results for Mâori mean better results for New Zealand.

Again there are many resources available. For example, Te Puni Kôkiri's publication - He Tirohanga o Kawa ki te Tiriti o Waitangi - provides guidance for those called on to formulate policy and advice on the application of Treaty principles in their organisation.

If the public service finds this area difficult, so does the rest of New Zealand. It is partly for this reason that the State Services Commission has been charged with coordinating a three year programme to increase public knowledge of the Treaty of Waitangi.

I would like to congratulate the organisers on a successful conference and congratulate those agencies who organised expo displays to showcase their successes.

It is good to be able to celebrate your successes. The public often take the public service for granted. And frequently your organisations only make the news when something goes wrong. I know that far more often you get it right. So thanks for your ongoing contribution to making a better New Zealand.

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