15 March 2012
Today’s address by the Prime Minister, anticipated with general caution in the State sector, and with particular concern in some agencies may be seen as confirmation of Ministers’ views about the role of the State. Do they lack confidence in the ability of State servants to deliver effective services? Do they consider that the private sector should have a more dominant role? Are their tighter expectations merely a  reflection of the tighter fiscal climate?
The amalgamation of several departments with the Ministry of Economic Development, forecast by some in the media, is not in itself indicative of any diminished commitment by the Crown in that sector. The Prime Minister will inevitably express his plans for the Public Service with various notions that improve accessibility, effectiveness, and efficiency, But these are no different from existing obligations specified not only in the State Sector Act but in the Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services.
Three of the (18) standards are particularly pertinent. The wording used to explain the meaning of these standards in Understanding the code of conduct – Guidance for State Servants may well be echoed in the rationalisation for change in the Prime Minister’s speech today. These standards and the explanation of their meaning include the following;
We must work to make government services accessible and effective
“Being accessible requires us all to take personal responsibility for responding in a way that is helpful to those using our services. We must be alert to the importance of liaising with other parts of the State Services to minimise barriers that may impede accessibility, and be innovative in finding how best community needs can be met….”
We must strive to make a difference to the well-being of New Zealand and all its people
“As State servants, imbued with the spirit of service to the community, we are motivated to improve the well-being of New Zealanders. A concern for the well-being of others is central to the spirit of service. This involves each of us endeavouring to find more efficient, effective, economical and sustainable ways of making our professional contribution to the work of our organisation….”
We must work to improve the performance and efficiency of our organisation
“We have an obligation to consider how we can carry out our functions in better and more successful ways….”
And with Government policy announced, the role of the State Services is to implement that policy. There are then four other standards that have direct application to the response by agencies and their staff.
We must be professional and responsive
“Being professional requires us to have well developed personal integrity, to be committed to our organisational responsibilities and to be aware of the extent to which other interests may affect those responsibilities. Senior staff in our organisations must be particularly conscious of the constitutional framework within which we operate…”
We must carry out the functions of our organisation, unaffected by our personal beliefs
“The work we do must not be influenced by personal beliefs or commitments….”
We must respect the authority of the government of the day
“All State Services organisations form part of executive government. Our organisations carry out activities on behalf of the Government. We must recognise our relationship to the Government and respect the responsibilities and the authority of Ministers. The way we carry out our roles will influence the confidence the community has in the good government of New Zealand. We must always be aware of the importance of supporting democratic processes and promoting trust in the institutions of government….”
We must ensure our actions are not affected by our personal interests or relationships
“Ensuring our actions are not affected by personal interests or relationships is essential if we are to be worthy of public trust. It is equally important that we do not act in a way that improperly benefits our family or friends or groups in which we have a personal interest….”
Today may well have a Shakespearean dimension for the State Services. This is where the spirit of service comes into its own! Meeting the challenges laid down by the Prime Minister will demonstrate the trustworthiness of the State Services.
Integrity is a state of mind, it is not a set of rules.