16 August 2012



Management speak has its fads. In the 90s the language of new public management in Britain was laced with “joined up government”. The expression rubbed off and got traction in other jurisdictions, including New Zealand, but the outcomes sought seem too few and far between. There is an occasional use of “joined up” in Better Public Services Cabinet papers – the aspiration remains but term may be passe. The reference now is to a connected, collaborative public sector.


Whether joined up or connected, agencies working together is a key to effective government. A criticism of the UK civil service is that departments do not work together. Better performance needs better cooperation across the sector. This was advocated by a Guardian article this week.


“There are many good things about Whitehall: it punches its weight against other OECD countries and possesses one of the most dedicated and talented workforces in the world. But large groups of intelligent people can sometimes behave in stupid ways. The civil service is capable of delivering extraordinary results, but it can also be guilty of weak performance management, inefficiency and bureaucracy. Any serious approach to transforming the civil service has to tackle Whitehall’s two greatest vices. The first is its aversion to serious accountability, which is a real problem but not a very big one. The second is Whitehall’s culture of departmentalism, which is real, big and ought to be the focus of Maude’s next wave of reforms.”


Next month when the Westminster holiday is over and Parliament resumes, the Lords Constitution Select Committee will be compiling its recommendations to address the issue of accountability. But there is not much optimism about workable measures to dismantle “departmentalism”. Numerous attempts at decentralisation have come unstuck and the recent drive for “localism” seems to have fared no better.


“Joined up” hasn’t worked, and now “cross cutting” seems to be going the same way.


The Better Public Services approach seems to anticipate blending functions. Proposed State Sector Act changes will integrate departmental agencies within the umbrella of lead departments. The plan may well be that structural coalescence will evolve as the sectors responsible for the Results for New Zealanders achieve operational integration.


The process set out in Better Public Services is that targets requiring a stretch beyond immediately deliverable results will highlight opportunities for new ways of working together. Capacity and capability will only come from working together as agencies will not have resources to work alone. Innovation and improvement created by a drive for results will produce the connected, collaborative public sector that to date has been elusive.


This expectation has a foundation in the State Services code of conduct standard that “we must be responsible”. As explained in Understanding the Code;

“…We must always act in the public interest. This requires us to understand the communities we serve and appreciate the important duty we have to rise to public need when circumstances demand. Our work involves delivering the quality services that the Government expects of us, and contributing to the results that New Zealanders are entitled to…”.