31 October 2012

Yesterday, Professor Peter Hughes delivered the final address in the “100 Years Perspective” series which the Institute of Public Administration NZ and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage sponsored to mark the centennial of the enactment of the Public Service Act 1912.  Professor Hughes’ topic was “The Present and the Future”.  He wrapped anecdotes around many of the themes developed previously by John R Martin and Professor Jonathon Boston.

He contrasted the Social Welfare Department that he joined in the 1970s with the Ministry that evolved from the reforms of the 1980s, and looked to imminent legislative changes to facilitate a whole of government focus on delivering outcomes if public services are to be truly effective. 

The picture he painted of the “old Public Service”, classification centric, regimented by departmental policies and constrained by a ubiquitous application of the Public Service Manual probably had less impact than intended as many in the audience served under that “old Public Service”.  Prof Hughes acknowledged as Prof Boston had done previously, that the changes of the 1980s were not necessarily making a better contribution than had been delivered by that unified, apolitical, career based, professional model.

The New Public Management reforms of the late 80s created the capacity to address public and political dissatisfaction with agency performance and to focus on service delivery – although the suggestion was that some departments were challenged in identifying precisely what their outputs were and what their purpose should be.

The attention given over the last 25 years to service delivery, on outputs with insufficient focus on outcomes, has defeated aspirations held for the New Public Management reforms.  Belatedly, Better Public Services commitments were stimulating the essential connection between service delivery and pan sectorial outcomes.

Proposals now before Parliament would legislate a framework to consolidate this outcome focus. Prof Hughes is enthusiastic about the progressive enhancement of government that will result.