Welcome to the bureaucrat capital

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 09/04/2014
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Wellington is home to more public servants than at any time since at least 2000 - and the capital has the greatest share of the bureaucracy since National took office in 2008.

Although National pledged and then made efforts to reduce "core" public servants in favour of "frontline" workers, the number of fulltime public servants based in Wellington rose by more than 900 in the year to June 30, 2013, to 18,493.

It is the largest number since at least 2000, and probably since major state service reforms of the 1980s.

Figures from the State Services Commission show that the number of public servants grew by 1155 to 44,500 in the year to June 30, with the vast majority of new positions in Wellington.

The rise means the capital holds 41.6 per cent of the public sector, the highest rate since John Key became prime minister.

Cabinet minister Tony Ryall said in 2011 that the number of public servants inherited from Labour was "unsustainable and unaffordable", although overall numbers have dropped by fewer than 800 nationwide since Labour was in power.

The figures released in the human resources capability survey differ slightly from the figures that National refers to as "core" public servants, which excludes Corrections and parts of the Ministry of Social Development. Labour dismisses that measurement as a publicity stunt.

The SSC has refused to release the latest figures on capping data for the end of 2013, although yesterday State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman said the figure would be "significantly" below the 36,475 cap created by National in 2011.

Some departments had taken on staff for substantial projects, such as Inland Revenue, and the Ministry of Education had taken on staff for particular projects, he said.

"You've got to take a global view on this. The number will move around the public service but overall it's undeniable the trend is one way," Coleman said, adding that surveys showed the public's opinion of public services was improving.

PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott said the figures released by the SSC may be flattering, with increased use of contracted call-centre staff.

"The practicalities of shrinking the back office in favour of the front line have sort of hit home and it's not really been possible to do that," she said.

"Most departments are finding it enormously difficult to stay within the cap."

Pilott said there were now signs that the cuts were creating inefficiency, with recent reports that PR company Senate SHJ was being paid $128,000 a year to upload court decisions on to a government website.

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Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams said the figures contradicted the Government's claims of restraint.

"It seems to fly directly in the face of what National promised, which was tightening the belt of Wellington so that more money could be directed at frontline services.

"Despite the rhetoric, the redundancies and all these payouts, the taxpayer is coughing up for even more bureaucrats in Wellington."

The rise in numbers comes as business confidence in Wellington surges. Net confidence in the region's economy climbed to more than 50 per cent in March, according to the Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce.

President John Milford had said in 2011 there was a climate of fear created by the threats of government cuts, but now says that did not appear to have played out.

"It comes down to perception or reality," he said.

"The issue was that there was the perception that the numbers were being cut. From the information I've seen that's not been the case."

- The Dominion Post

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