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Parker: Public Satisfaction with the State Sector

David Parker

19 June, 2008
Public Satisfaction with the State Sector

Address to the State Services Senior Leaders Development Conference
8.40am, 19 June 2008, Wellington Town Hall, Wellington

Good morning – and welcome to the State Services Senior Leaders Development Conference.

I am also pleased to see Australian and Canadian colleagues here today to share their lessons and experiences. It is good that you test your ideas and learn what you can from other jurisdictions, so as to continue to improve.

Over the course of today, while we are here in Wellington, around the country:

* Some 50,000 people will visit a Primary Health Organisation
* Around 1,500 people will ring the Police emergency line
* More than 10 jury trials will be completed, and another 10 commenced
* Around 800,000 kids will be sitting down in schoolrooms

When you stop to think about that – in terms of the number of people who rely upon the State– it is quite a responsibility.

As some of the 215,000 State servants, you have the power to collect tax, arrest people, issue fines, shut down a work site, to remove children from their homes for their safety, and to set environmental standards to protect our planet.

You hold very responsible positions. Positions of power and influence over New Zealanders’ lives.

With this power comes responsibility. And you can only exercise these powers freely because you hold the trust of New Zealanders. The State Services are often the only provider, making it particularly important they are not corrupt or inefficient. The services we provide to our country have a real impact on the lives of people.

Whether it is people in prison, or the 30,000 people that are serving some sort of sentence in the community. Or the 20 cases that will be referred to Child Youth & Family Services today.

These are serious issues. They are examples of what it means to have a democratically elected government exercising the rule of law.

And in order for this system to work – for our democracy to continue to be one of the world’s best in terms of its transparency and its accountability, we need to maintain the trust of the people we are serving.

If we lose the trust of New Zealanders, the fabric of society begins to unravel. If State servants don’t deliver services efficiently and effectively, people lose faith and trust in the State Services. People don’t seek or get the help they are entitled to. If that happens, people are less inclined to pay their taxes, and in the end don’t participate in the democratic process.

Your job is to build that trust. You build it by ensuring that your agencies and staff at all times model the values of the Code of Conduct. You build it by the lawful and appropriate exercise of the powers that your agency has. And you build it by continually improving the quality New Zealander’s experience when they use State Services.

The array of case studies being presented through the course of the day show examples of best practice from different parts of the the country, from policy work at the heart of Wellington through to health and justice initiatives in the provinces.

That all-of-government perspective is important. Because, from the ordinary person’s point of view, it is all just government. So many issues are complex and interrelated which requires interdepartmental cooperation to address them.

The 2007 survey of Public Satisfaction with Service Quality showed an overall satisfaction rating of 68 percent. So people think that you are doing a pretty good job – well done for what you have already achieved, but the challenge now is to work together over the next two years to deliver a better experience. And in doing so, building further trust in the State Services.

That trust underpins the relationship that you and your government have with the people we serve. That’s what this conference is for. To better help the people we serve.

Those kids sitting in schools across the country today, the people dialling 111 for help, or visiting their local health professional. Improving the quality of their lives.

And it’s not all easy. Advising governments about difficult policy issues involves balancing competing, sometimes seemingly irreconcilable interests.

But this is nothing compared with the stress entailed in going into people’s homes when they are distressed and angry, and making calls about whether their children stay or go. That is hard – and occasionally dangerous work.

Despite the differences in task, core principles will often be similar. Lessons from one area can be applied in many others. Co-operation between agencies can result in improvements for all.

So, I would ask you on this day, in particular to consider more than just the interests of your own agency and think about the system as a whole – please work together to improve its performance. I would ask that you keep thinking about the reason why you are doing this – what it is you hope to achieve from today.

The cost of assembling you here is something that you have to make sure you recoup through better practice, applying what you learn here, and maintaining the networks that you build to improve performance in the part of the State Services for which you are responsible.

We can all make improvements which will make a difference to the lives of the people that you and I serve. I encourage you to extract as much value as possible from the opportunity before you. And, I encourage you to set yourself some objectives for what you want to achieve today, and how you can incorporate improvements when you get back to your agencies.

Before I go I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a true State Services leader.

Mark Prebble will complete his time as State Services Commissioner at the end of this month, bringing an end to a long and distinguished service career in the Public Service.

Mark has held a number of very senior roles in the Public Service, including at the Treasury, and as the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Mark’s vision as State Services Commissioner has paved the way for an improved focus on better performance in the State Services. Through Mark, the government has embraced the Development Goals which are now very much central in the work that we do and what you are all gathered here to focus on today. He will leave an enduring legacy.

I have really enjoyed working with Mark during the short time that I have been Minister of State Services. His competence and professionalism have been invaluable to me as I’ve found my feet in this role. I would like to thank him personally and on behalf of the government for his dedication and commitment to the State Services, and I wish him well in his retirement.

And, on the 1st of July, Iain Rennie will take up the reins. Iain really stood out through a very rigorous appointment process. The panel, comprising former Prime Minister the Rt Hon Jim Bolger, former State Services minister Hon Stan Rodger and retired senior public servant Dame Margaret Bazley were unanimous in our decision to appoint him. I have every confidence that Iain will also be a capable leader of the State Services. He brings integrity, acumen and energy to this important role.

But, while welcoming Iain, I would like today to put emphasis on our thanks to Mark Prebble. I am sure that I speak for all of us here today when I wish him a long and happy retirement.

Thank you again for coming – and please make the most of the day.


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