29 November 2012 

Yesterday in Parliament, debate began on the State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill. The Minster of State Services indicated that the legislation would reshape the Public Service so that it was “fit for service”. 

There seems little consensus on some of the major changes. Some of the financial proposals were argued to be unconstitutional.  Labour is opposing departmental chief executives being able to delegate powers to a private entity ( needed for example, for PPP developments ) and unsurprisingly, will not agree to controls on collective bargaining.

Contemporaneously, in the UK, eight submissions to the Public Administration Select Committee have been published that respond to the following questions:

  • Is the Civil Service in need of radical reform?
  • Are the Government’s plans for reform, as outlined in the Civil Service Reform Plan and related documents, likely to lead to beneficial changes?
  • What is the best approach for achieving consensus on the future size, shape and functions of the Civil Service

Few show wholehearted support for the Government’s proposals.

The conclusions forming part of the respective submissions are;

  • “radical reform is needed
  • ”the case for radical Civil Service reform has not being made satisfactorily by the government at present, although some of the individual changes proposed appear desirable”
  • “reform of the Civil Service at all policy and operational levels is essential
  • “radical reform is not helpful … is a recipe for chaos
  • “the Civil Service has no choice but to reform…. The alternative will be to shrink in both stature and capability”
  • “the Civil Service Reform Plan might lead to an opaque and fragmented institutional architecture that simply replaces non-departmental public bodies with a new wave of ever more sophisticated delivery bodies
  • “a search for continuing improvement must be embedded in any organisation ….This is more critical than ever.”
  • “It is important that Civil Service reform includes consideration of public service delivery and accountability for it.”

The Institute for Government submission possibly most resonates government aspirations in New Zealand.  Some observations on effectiveness echo the purpose behind the Better Public Services programme.

“Our research into departmental transformation found that whilst many departments have articulated a different future there were some worrying gaps opening up between the rhetoric of reform and the reality that many staff were experiencing. For many staff the reality so far has been doing similar work in similar ways, but working harder to make up for the absence of former colleagues. When leaders talk about changing the culture and ways of working this is often not perceived to be matched by their behaviour and what is really rewarded and recognised.  These gaps are worrying. They need to be closed, and departments need to do so in a way that is consistent … Long term change requires a broader leadership coalition than is currently the case…”