A shake-up in our sector?

Posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2012 | Posted in Government Relationships, Social Development Partners focus, Social Services, Welfare | 1 Comment »

Earlier this month, in a major policy speech, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s plans for reform of the public sector.  These include:

  • The establishment of a new “super-Ministry”—the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.  This will involve the merging of the functions of the Ministries of Economic Development, and Science and Innovation, with the Departments of Labour, and Building and Housing.  The Government plans to establish the new Ministry by 1 July 2012.
  • lowering the “cap” on core government positions.
  • setting ten specific achievement targets for the public sector.

The changes are largely based on the recommendations of the Better Public Services Advisory Group, established by the Government to provide advice on state sector reform.  The Advisory Group’s report has been released and provides interesting background to the recent announcements.

Read the Advisory Report (PDF)

One of the Government’s announcements concerned lowering the “cap” on core government positions to 36,475 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs).  This number includes most people working in government departments but does not include so-called “frontline staff” such as teachers, Police, prison officers and hospital employees.

National campaigned on reducing the size of the public service in both 2008 and 2011, (and their confidence and supply agreements with the ACT party in both 2008 and 2011 both require the control of government expenditure and public sector reform).  This new cap will mean the number of FTE positions has decreased by over 3500 since 2008.

In the same breath, however, as lowering the number of people employed by the public service, the Prime Minister announced a list of “challenging results” he expects the public service to deliver over the next three to five years.

Read the list of results (PDF)

At first reading, the results or outcomes are hard to argue with; supporting vulnerable children, increasing the number of school-leavers with NCEA, and reducing crime are achievemnets we may all wish for.

Unfortunately, so far, we are not sure how we are going to get there.  Exact goals, and policy on how to achieve those goals is, with the exception of a target set for school-leavers with NCEA, will not be announced until 30 June 2012.  And remember, the government departments expected to deliver these results are getting smaller.

In the meantime, one of the more interesting parts of the Advisory Group’s report, for this sector at least, is around the idea of “best-sourcing”.

A key focus of the report is how to improve outcomes for all New Zealanders, but in more affordable ways.  The group anticipates continued financial pressures will see Government’s doing less, and be more organised around delivering results.

The report recommends government departments consider all their functions and services to find where it may be more “cost-effective” to contract service delivery to, for example, NGOs or teh private sector.

The report cites Whanau Ora and the privately managed Mt Eden Prison as current examples of successful “best-sourcing”.  This part of the report suffers a little from jargon (“best-sourcing….should enhance chief executives’ and Ministers’ toolkits”), but the idea that service delivery could be contracted to non-government providers could offer interesting opportunities within the sector.

While waiting for more informationabout public service results targets and reforms, there are several questions we can ponder:

  • What would best-sourcing look like from a community sector perspective?
  • How do the announced outcomes fit with the proposed welfare reforms announced a few days before the Prime Minister’s speech?  Quite how these fit with some of the Government’s wish list is beyond me.  I am not sure, for example, if requiring single parents to work is the best way to support vulnerable children.
  • These outcomes can only be achieved by working closely with our sector – where are the opportunities to do this?
  • How do we make links between these agendas and furhter announcements about proposed changes to local government?

These announcements are signalling further major changes that will affect the community sector.  It is our challenge to be as prepared as we can—and seek opportunities to discuss within the sector and with Government.

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