No public service inquiry: English

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Last updated 16:33 20/02/2014

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Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has rubbished a call for a high-level inquiry into the public sector.

Speaking to the Institute of Public Administration in the Beehive today, English said there had been few challenges to the Government's approach to public sector reform "other than from Sir Geoffrey Palmer who I understand was in government 25 years ago".

Palmer - who was an MP for 21 years (including a year as prime minister), a law professor, and co-founder of public law specialists Chen Palmer - has called for a royal commission of inquiry into the public sector saying it needed a complete overhaul.

English said today: "I don't think I'll bother taking a poll here but I can't think of a more useless intervention at this point."

Palmer was "completely wrong" to suggest the public service was "stuffed".

In his analysis of the public sector Palmer identified a range of problems, including the belief managers could do anything even if they had no knowledge of a subject, poor pay for top public servants, a lack of training, the structure of departments and a weak State Service Commission.

He said free and frank advice to politicians was also in short supply "partly because ministers don't want it" and this was wrong.

But English said today the reforms the Government had introduced would not change because they could not be taken away by the election this year.

The key elements of the reforms were a focus on the client and customer, understanding what value public servants were adding and achieving for the wider community, the need for feedback from the public and for public servants to act more like a network than a hierarchy.

One example of that feedback was the error-plagued Novopay education payroll system, which English described as "our largest and most useful failure" that provided valuable lessons for the current revamp of the Inland Revenue Department's systems.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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