Child-abuse funds 'blown on hype'

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012
Paula Bennett
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

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Paula Bennett's action plan to rescue vulnerable children has been dismissed as "an exercise in window dressing" with almost $400,000 spent on consultants.

Documents reveal the majority of the cash went on advertising, marketing and "community engagement" consultants.

Almost $200,000 was paid to two recruitment consultancies and $9000 to advertisers Saatchi & Saatchi. A communications adviser got $9500 and a copywriter $16,905 for two months' work.

Another $50,000 was given to two consultants for "meeting facilitation".

The plan to fight child abuse is a cornerstone policy for the social development minister.

She launched a white paper in October, the culmination of four years' work and a green paper.

But Labour MP Jacinda Ardern has questioned why the Government did not use experts already employed by the Social Development Ministry. She said the spend on consultants was "extraordinary".

"How much of this was about genuinely engaging with the community and getting ideas on what to do around vulnerable children and how much of it was to be seen to be doing something? There's a very big difference between the two," she said.

"Community engagement" involves getting individuals and groups on side and involved in developing policy. But Ms Ardern questioned if they were listened to.

"Community engagement is, of course, important. But we have an entire ministry of extremely competent civil servants. We are not saving money by having consultants doing a job they should be doing."

She said there was "a gap between the community's view and what the ministry finally produced" and questioned if it was "just an exercise in window dressing?"

Mrs Bennett would not answer questions on the spend yesterday, referring the matter to the ministry. In a written statement, deputy chief executive Iona Holsted said $360,000 was spent on external contractors. However, the documents supplied to Ms Ardern show the total was $374,550.

"The size of the project meant that our internal capacity was not sufficient for the work and we had to supplement in-house staff with external advisers," she said.

The spend on advertising was "so all New Zealanders could have their say".

Former All Black Norm Hewitt was paid $20,000 to "facilitate" community meetings, talk to the media and encourage organisations to make submissions.

The recruitment agencies supplied temporary staff, who cost $211,000 over eight months.

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The Government's plan aims to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect and encourage more reporting. Among the initiatives are a hotline and database of vulnerable kids to track those deemed at risk, as well as those suspected of abuse.

WHO GOT WHAT?

Sandra Alofivae: South Auckland barrister - $30,000 for "meeting facilitation" over five months

Norm Hewitt: $20,000 for "meeting facilitation" over five months

Powerhouse people: recruitment consultants - $57,533 for policy analysis, submissions support and "action plan" advice

Audio Transcription and Secretarial Services: transcription - $420

Barnardos: "facilitation" - $10,000 over four months

Careering Options: Recruitment agency - $52,074 for "project management" between November and April

Cognizant Technology Solutions: Database support - $1980

David Balham: Communications adviser - $9500 for an "engagement strategy"

JacksonStone and Partners: Recruitment consultants - $159,870 for an "engagement manager"

Kylie van Delden: Policy adviser - $7913 over two months

Lee-Anne Duncan: Freelance copywriter - $16,905 over two months

Saatchi & Saatchi: Advertising firm - $8775 over one month.

- Stuff

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