9 November 2012

The Parliamentary Order Paper this week looked as if the Government was seeking to add some symmetry, with the State Sector and Public Finance Bill listed for First Reading contemporaneously with centennial celebrations for the Public Service Act 1912. The Bill is the vehicle for embedding the Government’s better public services programme, strengthening coordination across the public sector, and facilitating enhanced State Services leadership.   But the House rose at the week’s end with the Bill being the next matter for consideration. 

The State Services Commissioner confirmed at celebrations on Wednesday night that Rt Hon Francis Maude, the UK Cabinet Office Minister would be in Wellington next week furthering his interest in the New Zealand approach to the accountability of officials to Ministers and to Parliament. Perhaps the plan now is that visitor will be in the House when the Bill has its First Reading.

Mr Maude is a champion of IT as the new way of government. Not only is he an enthusiast for commitments under the Open Government Partnership – and UK is a co chair this year of the OGP – but he wants speedier conversion to IT as the way for delivering services.  Just when on line services have come to an emergency stop in New Zealand and all agencies are conducting an intensive security audit, Mr Maude has launched a Digital Strategy. 

 Over the last week, the Minister has given two key speeches outlining the Digital by Default approach. This sets deadlines by which Departments must redesign their services for on line delivery.  Digital capability is to be entrenched in every level of the Civil Service. The Minister wants “…every single Government service to be available to everyone”…” If central government agencies deliver through the online channels proposed by the Digital by Default policy, the Minister expects annual savings of up to £1.7 billion on current costs.

He spoke of a 21st century government needing to be a “digital-savvy Government”.

I wonder if he will be briefed on how some New Zealand agencies, sensitised to privacy risks by recent high profile problems, are now imposing checks on IT use which neutralise some of the productive advantages of going digital.