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Mallard: Improving public sector productivity

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister of Labour

17 July 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until: 5.30pm

Improving public sector workplace productivity

Labour Minister Trevor Mallard's speech at the P3 Productivity Partnership and Public Value Conference, Wellington Town Hall Convention Centre
Good evening. Many thanks to you all for joining me to share this occasion.

Welcome to those attending the P3 Productivity Partnership and Public Value Conference, particularly those of you from out of town. I understand you have been working hard on how to raise the value of our public services, and I appreciate the efforts.

Productivity is critical to New Zealand’s future economic development and our strategy to lift wages and living standards. Most recent growth has been produced through more people entering the labour market as unemployment dropped. Given our current rate of labour market participation there is little scope for further increases in the size of the workforce.

The challenge for the future is to create economic growth through increases in labour productivity. In short, it is a question of not producing more workers but ensuring that each worker has the capacity to produce more by helping them to work smarter without working longer hours.

This government is committed to supporting our economy and society to develop sustainably. We also believe good workplace health and safety and employment relations frameworks, and good information and communications technology platforms, are equally important elements for sustained growth. This government is making significant investments in these areas to help business and workers.

Improving productivity is high on this government’s agenda. To achieve this we are investing in technology and training. These are the mechanisms that can deliver improved productivity in an information economy but we also need to ensure that a commitment to improving productivity is shared by all. It is important that it is a genuinely cooperative endeavour that engages workers and management at all levels and is not just imposed from above.

The State Services Productivity Kit shows just how important this sort of cooperative approach is.

This kit is aimed at raising awareness and providing assistance to public sector workplaces by identifying ways to improve workplace productivity and the delivery of services to the New Zealand public.

It has been adapted from the successful private sector focused Productivity Starter Toolkit, which profiled a number of enterprises with practical case studies of how they implemented change programmes in their workplaces that resulted in improved productivity.

The State Services Productivity Kit reflects the different focus and productivity objectives in the state services as compared to for-profit organisations.

It incorporates material highlighting the role of the Development Goals and Partnership for Quality initiatives in building high performing workplaces and explains how these relate to the seven workplace productivity drivers.

The kit also includes case studies of public sector organisations with excellent workplace practices that have improved productivity, including: ACC; Department of Labour – Immigration contact centre; Inland Revenue Department, and Department of Labour – Health and Safety Inspectorate.

It also features case studies of non-government not-for-profit organisations: Switzer Homes; Auckland City Mission; and Outward Bound – as these organisations have the same drivers as the public service and face similar challenges in raising productivity.

The Department of Labour’s development of a mobility tool for its Health and Safety inspectors has enabled staff to provide more timely and accurate advice when out in the field, and service improvements in the Immigration Contact Centre reduced staff attrition by one third and dramatically improved customer satisfaction ratings.

Through building relationships with industry leaders and providing more user-friendly and better targeted communications, the IRD has significantly reduced unintentional non-compliance amongst small and medium sized enterprises.

All these case studies provide valuable insights into how workplace productivity can be improved if there is shared and genuine commitment to change in the workforce. We haven’t got time to review all these here tonight but we do have a preview that I’d like to share with you now.

That’s inspiring stuff but the thing that shines out most is that these very tangible improvements stem from a far less tangible but vitally important commitment to people. These productivity improvements aren’t just the product of new technology; they are also the product of improved relationships — of a commitment to and faith in people.

None of these improvements would have been achieved without the willingness of all parties to listen to each other and engage at all levels. That’s the sort of focus that makes for productive workplaces and meaningful work.

While the kit focuses on practical examples of how productivity can be improved in individual workplaces, productivity growth must be underpinned by broader strategic initiatives that will ensure that government delivers on its broader social and economic objectives.

In this context, the government has put in place a number of ongoing initiatives.

In 2005, Development Goals for the State Services were established. These goals aim to ensure that state sector continues to deliver world-class state services that meet the needs of ordinary New Zealanders.

The Managing for Outcomes programme provides the state sector with a basis for creating greater public value through the services it delivers. It frames organisational outcomes from the perspective of citizens and asks how government can achieve better results for people accessing public services.

The Partnership for Quality Agreement, between the government, public service employers and the Public Service Association (PSA), is a commitment to build quality jobs and quality public services. This relies on genuine engagement of government, employers and the PSA.

The third Partnership for Quality Agreement was signed in 2007. This agreement recognises productivity initiatives as a priority. A productive and responsive public service must be an employer of choice. This involves developing a culture of high trust that is defined by good, productive work practices.

In order to measure the effectiveness of the services the state sector provides, we have launched Kiwis Count. This is the first all-of-government national survey to ask New Zealanders about their perceptions and experiences of public services as a whole.

Their views have provided us with a wealth of practical information about what public services are doing well and where services can be improved.

As in so many things, partnership holds the key to improving the nation’s economic productivity. And I’m greatly encouraged by the fact that productivity is high on the agenda of our social partners, Business New Zealand, the Council of Trade Unions, and the Chambers of Commerce. All these organisations have shown real leadership.

The contribution these and other participants involved in the development of the tripartite Workplace Productivity Agenda has been outstanding. It is reflected both in the quality of the State Services Productivity Kit I have the pleasure to launch tonight and the continuing success of the broader strategic initiatives the government has put in place.

If we continue to address the social and economic issues that face us in the same spirit of partnership that is evident in the work we celebrate here, I’m confident New Zealand has a bright working future — a future that will deliver meaningful work and balanced lives for all New Zealanders.

Thank you for joining me this evening to celebrate the launch of this kit, which I'm sure will lead to real improvements in the delivery of public services.

Thank you.


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