The besieged Ministry of Education is being questioned again as documents reveal it spent tens of thousands of dollars hiring consultants to do basic tasks.
Education Secretary Lesley Longstone announced in December that she was stepping down as the ministry faced criticism for its handling of the Christchurch school overhaul and Novopay debacle.
Now documents supplied as part of its 2011-12 financial review show it hired external consultants to conduct basic functions such as responding to Official Information Act (OIA) requests and writing speeches.
New Zealand Education Consultants was paid $49,707 between August 2011 and this month to help with the Kawerau School merger.
Sara Cunningham received $115 an hour to provide OIA ministerial support, Tammy Thompson $75 an hour as a ministerial writer and Caravel Group was paid $170 an hour to write business cases. Tuck Grye earned a total of $89,592 in the 2011-12 financial year for evaluating requests for information.
Labour MP Chris Hipkins said a department as big as the ministry should have people able to perform such basic functions.
The consultants were paid a lot of money for work the ministry "should be able to do for themselves".
"I think there are some questions to be asked about the way the Ministry of Education is performing."
A ministry spokeswoman said it did have the expertise, but the volume of work at different times meant external help was needed to meet statutory time frames.
"There are times when specialist skills are required for a short period of time."
That included project management or temporary events, she said.
Mr Hipkins said the Government's overall use of consultants was getting out of hand. "It's often a lot cheaper just to employ people to do work rather than bringing in expensive consultants."
The Government's cap on public servant numbers was promoting greater use of consultants, he said.
"That means it costs the taxpayer more to get the same outcome."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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