Super-ministry to cost many jobs

JOHN HARTEVELT, VERNON SMALL AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 08:58 16/03/2012

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Hundreds more state sector jobs are set for John Key's sword - and the Prime Minister is throwing open performance standards to put the work of those left standing under the public microscope.

Four highly-paid public sector chief executives were yesterday telephoned by Mr Key's go-to minister, Steven Joyce, and told their departments - and their own jobs - would be restructured out of existence within three months.

A new Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry will replace the existing Economic Development and Science and Innovation ministries, along with the departments of Building and Housing and of Labour.

More than 3200 employees in the four affected departments face a nervous wait up to July 1 - when the new ministry is slated to start its work - to learn if their jobs are safe.

The most vulnerable would appear to be those employed in legal, finance or human relations roles at the four departments. But chief executives will also have to find their own way within the new structure, a task that is being left to State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to sort out.

''There will be savings and there probably will be some redundancies as a result of that but overall, that's not the driving force. The driving force here is - can we get better results out of the government? And can we do it in a way where we save a billion dollars out of the public sector?'' Mr Key said.

''We aren't doing structural change for the sake of structural change. We're being quite selective in where we've done that.''

The ''sinking lid'' squeezing out jobs elsewhere in the public was also confirmed yesterday by Mr Key. ''Core administration jobs'' would be held down to no more than 36,475, he said.

In the third leg of his announcement to an Auckland Chamber of Commerce event, Mr Key set out what he called ''a new result-driven focus'' for the public service. Ten ''challenging results'' across the public service covering crime, health, education and interactions with the state sector were laid out for the next three to five years.

Mr Key indicated results would start to be published on Government websites within six months to a year.

''Quite frankly, when there is daylight and exposure on issues, ministers and chief executives focus resources, time and effort,'' he said.

''I expect them to be held to account and they will be held to account ... People aren't stupid ... they will over the course of the next three years, before the next general election, do a stock-take about whether we're delivering those results or not.

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''If we couldn't get the results we wanted, I'm sure there could personnel changes but the most significant change would be on the Government.''

The announcements were warmly received by the hundreds of Auckland business leaders in attendance, but will create more trepidation among civil servants in the capital. Major restructuring proposals at the foreign affairs ministry have sparked a strong backlash, prompting Mr Key to acknowledge they may have gone too far.

The latest changes, understood to have been mapped out by senior ministers over the summer months, may also prompt anger.

Mr Key said there would ''of course'' be a consultation period over changes in the state sector.

''Some people will feel threatened by that and others won't. But ... I don't think we should stop doing things because they're challenging,'' he said.

NO FOCUS ON PRODUCTIVITY AND GROWTH

 

Mr Joyce said the new ministry would focus on lifting overall productivity and supporting business growth, which would lead to more jobs and higher wages.

But a new 10-point plan for the public sector released by Mr Key, drawing on a report from the Better State Public Services Advisory Group, is light on economic targets.

Mr Key said details of the targets covering crime, health, education and interactions with the state sector would be published, starting in six months.

He expected ministers and chief executives would be held to account for achieving the aims.

"If we couldn't get the results we wanted, I'm sure there could be personnel changes but the most significant change would be on the Government."

There would be a consultation period over the changes. "Some people will feel threatened by that and others won't. But ... I don't think we should stop doing things because they're challenging."

The advisory group report noted that overall productivity growth had lagged behind that of comparable countries, notably Australia, and recommended one of the targets be to double labour productivity growth.

Elsewhere it also considered a target based on fresh water, but highlighted difficulties implementing it. The Government did not include any environmental targets among the 10.

Elsewhere the advisory group indicated other targets, which could be adopted by the Government.

They included: A reduction in infant mortality, running at 4.92 per 1000 live births (and 6.1 for Maori), compared to the OECD average of 4.6.

A 20 per cent reduction in crime-related statistics, a 15 per cent improvement in disposal times at the courts and a 10 per cent reduction in reoffending.

The report also recommends the State Services Commissioner be appointed Head of State Services.

Changes to the accountability regime covering public service chief executives should be made to bring about more collaboration and move away from the independent management and operation of departments.

The Government is expected to introduce an omnibus law to amend the State Sector Act, the Crown Entities Act and the Public Finance Act in line with the recommendations.

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