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No new public servants, new super-ministry looms: Key

No new public servants, business-focused govt departments to merge: KeyBy Pattrick Smellie

March 15 (BusinessDesk) – The government will lower its cap on the total number of core public servants to 36,475 from 39,000 in a move that threatens no jobs directly since total numbers are already below that level.

In a much-anticipated speech on public sector reform, Prime Minister John Key said the government had already seen the total number of core public servants drift below the 39,000 upper limit set in 2008, arresting an increase of some 12,000 new public service jobs between 2002 and 2008.

“This is not a radical decrease by any means,” said Key, who has come under pressure on the scope of public sector reform plans amid fears of mass lay-offs, pushback on proposed reforms at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and after TV3 unearthed comments he made in 2008 in which he said public service job cuts were not part of a National-led government’s agenda.

Key also announced the merger of four major government agencies into a new Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which will combine the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Labour Department, and business and regulatory elements of the Department of Building and Housing.

MSI is barely a year old and was formed from a merger of the former Ministry, Research, Science and Technology and the once separate funding agency, the Foundation for RS&T.

The building and housing department has been embroiled since last year in an employment dispute involving its chief executive, Katrina Bach, and a staff member she is alleged to have abused and roughly handled.

The changes would involve senior management changes, Key said.

On top of this, Key announced the creation of measurable policy targets in 10 areas of public sector performance, to be announced formally on June 30 and designed to “stretch” public agencies to deliver much better outcomes in areas of particular government focus.

The 10 areas are grouped into reductions in long term welfare dependency, supporting vulnerable children, boosting skills and employment, reducing crime, and improving interaction with government.

“These are not a wish-list. They are a to-do list,” said Key. “They are not everything the government is doing or everything the government thinks is important.”

Some would be “extremely difficult” to achieve, while in other areas, work was already under way. For example, Key said he had been “shocked” by how outmoded the information technology systems were in many government agencies.

The 10 targets are:
• Reduce from 215,000 at present the number of people who have been on a working age benefit for more than 12 months;
• Increase early childhood education participation, particularly among Maori and Pacific Island children;
• Increase infant immunisation rates and lower rates of rheumatic fever;
• Reduce the number of assaults on children;
• Increase the proportion of 18 year-olds with NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualifications from 68 percent at present to 85 percent – the only formally declared target so far;
• Increasing the proportion of 25 to 34 year olds with advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees at level 4 or above;
• Reduce total crime rates;
• Reduce reoffending;
• Ensuring businesses have a one-stop, online shop for all government advice and support;
• Improved interaction with government for all New Zealanders that allows them to “complete their transactions with the government easily in a digital environment.”

Key said the changes would require more coordination across government agencies, and would make people “accountable for achieving something, not just for managing a department or agency.”

“I don’t want easy targets. I want targets that are going to stretch the ability of the public sector to deliver them, and that are going to force change,” he said.

Changes to the State Sector and Public Finance acts would be needed to allow departmental leaders to operate differently and more flexibly.


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