Novopay claims major Education Ministry scalp

ANNE JACKSON: resigned in the wake of the Novopay debacle.
ANNE JACKSON: resigned in the wake of the Novopay debacle.

There’s no golden handshake for Ministry of Education deputy secretary Anne Jackson after she resigned following failures in the Novopay education payroll system.

Her resignation follows a report on Novopay that found Cabinet ministers were misled by officials whose optimism over the project meant it went live despite serious problems.

Jackson was the tertiary, international and system performance deputy secretary.

"The report identifies shortcomings in areas for which I was responsible as Deputy Secretary Schooling, a position I held until July 2012. As a result, I have decided to tender my resignation," Jackson said.

"I hope my resignation will help the Ministry put the Novopay issues behind it.  I am truly sorry for the extra pressure and stress put on teachers, staff and pay administrators during its introduction."

She said the decision to resign was hers alone and that there was no pressure put on her to take this action.

"I remain deeply committed to education and the principles of public service. That is why I have taken this step today."

The minister responsible for resolving the Novopay issue, Steven Joyce, said today Jackson was one of two people facing an employment investigation.

He expected Acting Secretary for Education Peter Hughes to make a comment about the second person "in due course".

She has made her own call and Joyce said he respected that call.

She was the deputy secretary responsible for Novopay. A number of entities and people had fallen short so it was not right to say she had taken the blame for Novopay's problems.

He understood that Jackson would receive only the payout she was entitled to under her contract.

"There is no sort of handshake or anything like that."

A spokeswoman for the ministry confirmed that.

"There is no handshake at all. Just her entitlement under her contract."

Hughes said Jackson had made an outstanding contribution to the public service over the past 25 years, particularly in the area of education.

"Anne is a person of great integrity and I fully respect the decision she has made."

Hughes and Jackson said in a statement they would not be available for any further comment.

The ministry website says the focus of Jackson's role was the development of strategic direction for the education system, including links with economic policy, skills and innovation.

She was previously schooling deputy secretary responsible for curriculum, assessment, teacher employment, industrial relations, school funding and school infrastructure.

Originally from England, Jackson joined the ministry in 2005 as senior manager for the tertiary education outcomes and strategy group.

Before that she was general manager of the Centre for Social Research and Evaluation at the Ministry of Social Development.

She has been manager of strategic projects at the Education Review Office and an education adviser with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Novopay report, released last week, sparked an announcement that two senior Ministry of Education staff were under investigation after the ministerial inquiry into the payroll system found a series of errors and poor leadership.

 The report, released by the minister responsible for Novopay, Steven Joyce, revealed that the system cost $24 million more than expected, and the blowout was likely to increase even further.

"The impacts of the well-publicised Novopay failures have reverberated across New Zealand," it said.

"The problems with Novopay have affected public trust and confidence in the Ministry of Education and also the wider public sector."

Important areas of the system were not tested, the impact on schools was underestimated, there was a breakdown in the relationship between the ministry and contractor Talent2, and poor leadership meant proper processes were not followed, the inquiry found.

It said information provided to Finance Minister Bill English, Education Minister Hekia Parata and Associate Education Minister Craig Foss last June was misleading about the state of Novopay.

Officials recommended that it go live, despite unresolved defects, and ministers gave it the go-ahead.

Prime Minister John Key said the decision had proved to be the wrong one, but ministers must be able to rely on officials' advice.