12 June 2012

If what goes round, comes around, then it will not be surprising if what’s going round in the British public sector may well come around in New Zealand.

 Senior civil servants, particularly those whose professional skills are in areas like economics and law are abandoning public sector careers. In an unprecedented way, a majority of British Ministers (and the government was formed only 16 months ago) have now been in post for longer periods than their departmental chief executives. Staff turnover in some departments is as high as 30 per cent, according to the Institute for Government. And in the Treasury, the rate at 28%, is described as being greater than McDonalds!

According to the Institute for Government the Civil Service reform plan to be published shortly will need to show Government confidence in the Civil Service and compelling reasons for talented civil servants to stay on. The view is that as no more money can be saved from the back office, the reform plan must be more than a list of random actions.

The recommendation is that the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office repudiate attacks on the Civil Service, so that chief executives can demonstrate their commitment to reform across departments, to improve value for money, policy making and the running of major projects.

Success needs

 • compelling outcomes of reform

 • clear accountability and responsibility in roles of Ministers and their chief executives

• focus on cross-department savings

 • radical ideas for reform

• effective leadership from the top of the Civil Service

• political support from the Prime Minister and senior Ministers.

With very little change in language the prognosis and remedy seem apposite for the situation in New Zealand.