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News from the colonies N

Dr Andy Asquith, director of the Public Management Group at the School of Management at Massey University – Albany in Auckland, New Zealand, explores public sector issues there and in the UK.

ew Zealand /Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud, home of the All Blacks (and 40 million sheep) and the place where New Public Management demonstrated to the world the devastating effect of

unleashing a theory to run its course in the real world. Now, almost 30 years on since the neo-liberal experiment of the fourth Labour Government elected in 1985 gave us Rogernomics – named after the then Finance Minister, Roger Douglas – this article offers some thoughts on the state of the public sector in New Zealand in 2012.

What we describe in NZ as the state sector, differs from what is known as the public sector in the UK. Essentially, the NZ state sectors refers to the core civil service in Wellington – the Sir Humphrey brigade. To a certain extent this is aided and abetted by the way in which NZ has embraced the idea of agencification and specialisation. Hence, at first glance, NZ can appear to have a very slim and small state sector. However, when you begin to add in the wider public sector – such as social housing, law and order, social services, health and local government, you find a state sector which actually accounts for somewhere in the region of 40% of all jobs in NZ.

This figure is further inflated by the number of, what are on paper NGOs, which operate as arms length contractors to government departments. Hence, one of the biggest NGOs in NZ – Barnado’s – is effectively an extension of the Ministry of Social Development in its role of providing numerous welfare and social services throughout the country. MSD is without a doubt, the most significant funding source of Barnado’s in NZ.

As Disraeli once said: “There are three kinds of lie: lies, damned lies and NZ government head count statistics!”

Whilst thinking about this article, it has been interesting to receive comments from the UK regarding the state of the public sector there, and the impact upon it of the policies being pursued by the Tory/Liberal coalition government.

One informant likened the experience as being caught up in a Thatcherite time warp. If only they and like- minded people were to visit NZ, then they would certainly experience déjà vu!

The alarm bells in my

head began to ring recently

when I saw that as part of his attempt to reform the UK civil service,

David Cameron was seeking inspiration from NZ. The NZ model of central government policy

making and delivery operates thus: departmental chief executives/permanent secretaries (who are employed on typically five-year fixed-term contracts) are contracted to deliver policy outcomes to their political master. Whilst, like many reforms this might sound sensible

on paper – I would hazard caution. The major failing of the NZ system is that the issue of accountability is essentially fudged.

The buck does not stop anywhere. When you add in the extreme level of agencification which exists here – you often have a situation of policy failure whereby politicians blame their officials, who in turn pass the buck onto other agencies citing failure

elsewhere. A further undermining of accountability appears to be the lack of effective Parliamentary scrutiny too.

In November 2011 the NZ electorate returned to power a formal centre-right government led by the National (in UK terms Conservative) Party. Prior to the election, there had been some speculation here that the National Party might be able to govern alone, without the need for minor party support in Parliament. Since 1996, all Parliamentary elections have been run under the Multi Member Party (MMP) system. Although it is technically feasible

14 | public sector executive Jul/Aug 12

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