National takes axe to green schemes

BY TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2009
ROSS GIBLIN/The Dominion Post
COST CUTTING: Environment Ministry chief executive Paul Reynolds said government ministers had decided to axe three programmes, saving $13 million and affecting up to 20 jobs.

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Flagship schemes to "green" the public service are the latest casualties in the Government's cost-cutting drive.

The Environment Ministry confirmed yesterday that it was ditching the Labour government's goal of a "carbon neutral" public service and several other green schemes as it looked to contain costs. These include a programme to help households become more energy efficient.

Ministry chief executive Paul Reynolds confirmed government ministers had decided on Monday to axe three programmes, saving $13 million over two years and affecting 18 to 20 jobs. The ministry was also trying to find a further $1.8 million in savings. But he hoped to avoid redundancies by assigning staff to different jobs.

News of the cuts come as a Government razor gang conducts a "line-by-line" review of its spending.

The Government has so far refused to reveal the size of cuts being sought or the likely level of job losses. Some departments appear to have been instructed to find savings of up to 10 per cent, which the Government will not confirm, saying it has not set any targets.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that the Government had its own plans for home insulation and the ministry's scheme did not fit within that.

Last week, the Tertiary Education Commission announced plans to restructure, at a cost of more than 70 jobs. The Justice Ministry is rumoured to be next, with a restructuring announcement tipped for as early as today.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said there appeared to be "a lot of restructuring in the wind and cuts large and small going on".

"It is very hard to get a picture at the moment."

Three hundred Environment Ministry staff were summoned to a meeting at Wellington's InterContinental yesterday to be told about the cuts and plans for a wider restructuring.

The proposal will result in 86 positions being disestablished but Mr Reynolds did not expect anyone to lose their job as a result.

He said it had been necessary to hold the meeting at the InterContinental, at a cost of $2800, because there were no rooms big enough at the ministry. About a dozen staff had been flown to Wellington.

Environment Minister Nick Smith yesterday blamed the cuts on the previous government leaving a $26 million hole in the ministry's budget.

"There are a number of programmes the [Labour] government provided only short-term funding for but those programmes must go on."

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They included work in climate change, waste management, biodiversity, and water and air quality higher priorities than a carbon neutral public service, which had proved to be of limited value.

"It's not government policy that we should move to a carbon neutral public service. That was a cheap slogan from the previous government. I've heard awful stories of senior public servants ... spending an hour on how they might reorganise their rubbish."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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