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National wrong about growth of the public service

March 12, 2008
For Immediate Use
PSA: National wrong about the growth of the public service

“The PSA has major concerns about National’s public services policy,” says Brenda Pilott, National Secretary of the PSA which has 55,000 members working in the state sector.

“That’s because the policy is based on a mistaken belief that the growth in the public service in the last eight years has been due to an increase in so called ‘bureaucrats’ rather than an increase in front line public servants,” says Brenda Pilott.

The fact is there were major shortages of front line public service staff such as prison officers, social workers and DOC rangers at the end of the 1990s. “This is because after nine years of National-led governments the number of public service staff had been reduced to the lowest level since the end of the Second World War,” says Brenda Pilott.

This had a major impact on the ability of public servants to deliver public services. For example some government departments, such as the Department of Work and Income, were so run down in 1999 they were unable to carry out core functions like preparing briefing papers for the incoming government.

“There were even delays in counting the votes during the 1999 election because of a lack of experienced staff and the fact that there was no national infrastructure to run the election,” says Brenda Pilott.

“But the major impact of the public services cuts in the 1990s was a serious shortage of both front line public servants and support staff such as policy analysts, accounting staff, legal staff and ICT specialists.”

We had to rebuild the public service and that’s been the prime reason for an increase in the number of public servants since 1999,” says Brenda Pilott.

Mr Key says National will cap the number of bureaucrats and instead direct government spending at front line services - when in fact that’s already happening.

For example the Corrections Department hired 730 new staff between June 2006 and June last year because they opened three new prisons.

Inland Revenue employed an extra 370 staff in the same period. They were needed to run new programmes such as KiwiSaver. By the end of February nearly 470,000 New Zealanders had joined KiwiSaver with 55,000 joining last month. IRD needs to ensure it has the staff to meet this demand from working New Zealanders to join KiwiSaver.

Mr Key also demonstrates a lack of experience and understanding of how the public services and government works when he tries to draw a line between between front line public servants and
support staff he labels as ‘bureaucrats.’

“Does he want front line public servants like social workers to stop working with children and families because they have to do all the administrative paper work and planning for the future,” says Brenda Pilott. “Or is National planning to privatise parts of the public service by contracting them out?” .
The PSA has been talking to Government departments about productivity and we can see scope for streamlining their reporting and monitoring systems and the many layers of management.
“But we reject the policy of capping staff numbers in the public service when the demand for public services continues to grow,” says Brenda Pilott.


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