NZ’s top mandarins call for narrower govt goals in shift to cross-agency state sector
By Paul McBeth
March 15 (BusinessDesk) – Government ministers need to whittle down their priorities to a narrow list to help a smaller and more flexible public service achieve those goals, according to an advisory group.
The state sector can achieve better value for money by merging some services and cutting out the duplication of functions as part of a shift to bring down cross-agency boundaries, said the Better Public Services Advisory Group, which includes the country’s top civil servants, in a report.
If the Beehive introduces a tighter focus for its goals, public service leaders will be released to achieve those targets in a sector-wide, rather than departmental, approach, it said.
“The advisory group propose a new modus operandi for state agencies – where sectors mobilise around specific results, deliberately tackling complex issues, or matters that might fall between the responsibilities and accountabilities of individual agencies, taking the opportunities to harness better results in places where more integrated working practices across agencies make sense,” the report said.
“The more clearly ministers narrow down and specify the few things that matter most to the government of the day, the more effectively the state services will be in ensuring those services are delivered. Choices matter,” the report said.
The report was released as Prime Minister John Key announced a shake-up of the state sector, merging the Ministries of Economic Development and Science & Innovation with the Departments of Labour and Building & Housing, as well as lowering the cap of core public servants.
Key outlined 10 targets for the government to achieve, which will require the kind of cross-agency approach flagged in the report, and said the government will amend legislation to let civil servants operate with more flexibility.
The report recommended changes to the State Sector and Public Finances acts to shift public servant accountability towards achieving value-for-money and delivering results, and to allow for agency budgeting.
The advisory group is chaired by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet head Maarten Wevers, and includes Watercare Services boss Mark Ford, Air New Zealand general manager of people and technical operations Vanessa Stoddart, Wise group boss Jacqui Graham, State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf, Victoria University’s Professor Peter Hughes and the SSC’s deputy commissioner Sandi Beatie.
State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman jumped on the report’s recommendation to investigate outsourcing some services, saying the report “backs a drive for more contestability in providing services, where agencies consider whether it would be better to outsource to non-government agencies or the private sector.”
“I believe it provides thoughtful and pragmatic recommendations about how we can achieve those goals – the government is already progressing some of them and is considering others,” Coleman said.
The report puts forward the idea to create sector policy hubs rather than keeping policy advisers inhouse, and also recommended a more flexible arrangement for sharing staff.