'Back office' public service is shrinking, maintains minister

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014

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State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman insists "back office" public servants are in decline, after it emerged that Wellington's number of government staff is rising.

Yesterday The Dominion Post revealed that despite the Government's claims of public sector restraint, the capital's 18,493 public servants was the highest number since at least 2000, and probably since major state sector reforms in the 1980s. Coleman issued a statement on the "facts about public service numbers" yesterday, which did not dispute the story, but claimed that under Labour public sector numbers had "drastically escalated without any improvement in public services".

He said there were fewer back office staff in the public service than in 2008, and the number of "core" public servants, which excludes some public servants, was below a cap it set of 36,475.

"The bottom line is that this Government is delivering better public services at the same time as we've been shifting resources from the back office to the frontline - so more doctors, nurses and police officers, and fewer in core government administration."

The Taxpayers' Union rejected Coleman's claims.

Executive director Jordan Williams said: "Unless the minister is telling us there has been an influx of police officers and doctors into Wellington, his claim that there are less ‘back office' staff cannot be correct.

"Changes to how ‘core government administration' is defined may have led to these numbers," he said.

"The minister can fiddle with labels but the facts are Wellington has more state servants now than in 2009."

Labour's state services spokeswoman Maryan Street said National had done an "embarrassing U-turn" after discovering it needed the public sector.

"National has showed disdain for the public service since it came to office. It has slashed its way through the sector, sacking clever and experienced workers and replacing them with expensive consultants," she said.

"It is now clear comments about a ‘bloated and unaffordable bureaucracy' were merely rhetoric. National is now left with the worst of all worlds.

"It has a public service which is blowing its budgets on expensive consultants, workers on short-term contracts and low morale."

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- The Dominion Post

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