Wellington feels pain of state job cuts

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 05:00 25/08/2011

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Wellington will bear the brunt of the job cuts from the latest public sector restructuring plans.

About 110 positions based in the capital are to be axed after the Fisheries Ministry was folded back into the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry on July 1.

Under the new ministry's "consultation proposals" published yesterday, 241 positions – mainly corporate roles including communications and policy jobs – will disappear from October.

Of those, 97 were already vacant. Of the remaining 144 jobs to be axed, about 80 per cent are in Wellington.

According to the Public Service Association, just under 600 "core" public sector jobs have gone this year.

Grim-faced MAF head office staff were reluctant to comment yesterday outside Pastoral House in Lambton Quay. One muttered "no comment"; another said: "Do I look happy to you?"

However, Maribeth Major, a 28-year-old executive assistant, who has been working for MAF for just six months, said she felt confident she would get another job after being told her position was being disestablished. She planned to apply for a MAF job. "However, I can't say I'm the happiest about it."

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown urged the Government yesterday to take a cautious approach to further public service cuts, saying the past two years had been a "painful and worrying time" for many civil servants.

However, Wellington was long past being only a government town, she said. "Wellington is diversifying at a rapid rate, and in fact research suggests that smart businesses with a global reach will soon overtake public services as the dominant employment in Wellington."

Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ken Harris agreed the face of Wellington business was changing at a rate of knots and it was well placed to handle cuts to the public service.

"I am amazed at how many information and technology-based companies there are here – and ones with huge potential. But there are barriers to their stepping up to another level of growth ... around access to $2 million-$4 million of capital, being able to get the banks to lend in that range. Banks are unsure about whether IT is valid or not."

Prime Minister John Key said last night that the MAF restructure would save $18m in the 2012-13 financial year. "It's very important we deliver to the taxpayer value for money. All organisations are looking to do that."

MAF director-general Wayne McNee said the proposed cuts would not reduce frontline services.

The cost cuts would include streamlining functions such as financial management, policy advice and communications, and outsourcing some functions such as information technology.

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Other job cuts would be made by a "realignment" of the management structures, but there would be no cuts in staff numbers among fisheries officers, animal welfare inspectors and investigators, and quarantine inspectors.

Mr McNee said final decisions on the outcome of a consultation process with staff would be announced in October.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said many of the workers facing redundancy were analysts for sound practice that protected the forestry, fisheries and agriculture industries.

"These are industries critical to our economy and we shouldn't be putting them at risk."

Core public service cuts

1886 positions disappeared between December 2008 and December 2010

This year, just under 600 jobs have gone, the PSA says

That includes about 200 from provincial Inland Revenue offices

The State Services Commission axed 16 jobs last week

In June, the SSC said cost-cutting would see it share offices with the Reserve Bank

Public service employees

About 33,000

About 19,000 based in Wellington

Estimated 40 per cent of capital's office space tenanted by Government ministries

- The Dominion Post

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