10 August 2013

Pity the poor public servant

There are presently 29 public service departments in New Zealand. Not bad for 4.4 million people, although the number has been declining in recent years, due to amalgamations into 'super-ministries' such as MPI (primary industries) and MBIE (business, innovation and employment).
One wonders how, under such an anti-PC government, the tiny Ministries of Women's Affairs and Pacific Island Affairs have been left alone.
The trend, at the height of the neo-liberal era, however, had been to decentralize services, and to break up the old monolithic, multi-purpose bureaucracies into smaller, single-purpose agencies. That way, things would be 'more efficient and effective,' we were told.
It soon became obvious to those at the centre of government, however, that the new arrangements created problems of co-ordination and duplication. Each agency was pursuing its own goals, sometimes without considering the consequences for other public services; and each agency had to have its own teams for human resources, accounting, communications, etc as in-house services.
So, the present government has advanced a trend that began under Clark: to re-amalgamate and to look for ways in which agencies can share 'back-office' services, IT infrastructure, etc. That way, things will be 'more efficient and effective,' we are told. What's more, we will get 'better public services' and, after a while, budget surpluses too. What more could we ask?
Barely had the super-ministry MBIE been formed, however, than the Pike River disaster occurred and there was a Royal Commission of Inquiry, one of whose very sensible recommendations was to split the Health and Safety enforcement service off from MBIE and to create a stand-alone, single-purpose agency. The government agreed, and the new WorkSafe NZ is expected to be up and running in December. It will be the workplace health and safety regulator, and a stand-alone Crown Agent. About 300 MBIE staff will be shifted into the new organization.
That's progress – although it's also 'back to the future' – and no doubt the transition will cause a lot of disruption and time-wasting for the staff concerned, who only recently were folded into the MBIE that they are soon to be parted from.
Now that the Fonterra contamination scandal is being scrutinized, one already hears people say that we need the formerly stand-alone NZFSA (food safety authority) to be rescued from the depths of mega-ministry MPI. But, hang on, the poor people are still getting their feet under their desks after the last restructuring when services were amalgamated...


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