Government announces plans to reform public service system

Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Government has announced plans to reform the statutory framework governing New Zealand’s Public Service. 

The Government began work on State Sector Reform last year, including a public consultation. Cabinet has now approved the proposed changes.

In his speech announcing the reforms, Minister of State Services Chris Hipkins said the changes "... represent the biggest transformation of the Public Service in 30 years."

He explained that the reforms involve two parts: legislative change replacing the State Sector Act 1988 and non-legislative change focused on culture and leadership. Minister Hipkins went on to state the proposed reforms would:

"Bring whole-of-government action - shifting agencies from working as single departments to working as one, unified Public Service, able to quickly mobilise and tackle specific issues. The reforms will mean leaders in the Public Service will take joint responsibility for the whole of the Public Service, rather than just individual agencies, to tackle the country’s big challenges. It will be easier to deploy public servants to work on single-issue challenges."

The changes involve repealing the State Sector Act 1988 and replacing it with a new Public Service Act. Minister Hipkins' speech noted that the new Act would include a stand-alone clause about the expectations of the public service in relation to Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi and that:

"This will also mean chief executives have a collective responsibility to develop cultural competence and capability, for supporting Māori leadership within the public service and ensuring the public service engages with and has strong relationships with Māori."

A key premise under the new Act would be the development of joint ventures, similar to the Joint Venture Business Unit already launched to address family violence. Joint Ventures will have their own staff, funding and assets. The Beehive press release notes:

"Under the changes, boards, made up of chief executives from relevant government agencies, will be established to tackle the most pressing issues. These boards, or joint ventures, would be accountable to a single minister and receive direct budget appropriations. Public servants from across the system will be deployed as required."

The Minister said this might allow, for example, one contract between a non-government organisation (NGO) and the joint venture, rather than individual contracts with each government party.

The reforms will also have an impact at a regional level. This would include changing organisational boundaries (agency jurisdictions); regional focus areas developed by local government, iwi, business and community groups; and designated regional leaders to drive change and share property and IT models to support regional offices. 

It is expected that legislation will be drafted and introduced to Parliament this year. There will be a public consultation on the legislation, with the legislative process expected to run into mid-2020.

More information

The State Services Commission provides a detailed overview of the changes along with links to the Cabinet papers for each area:

"Major decisions are grouped in the five areas that will enable the Public Service to join up services around New Zealanders’ needs, secure public trust and confidence and ensure it remains well paced to service New Zealand in the future. They are:

    • A unified Public Service
    • Te Ao Tūmatanui - Strengthening the Māori/Crown relationship
    • Employment and Workforce
    • Leadership of the Public Service
    • Organisations of the Public Service

There are also a series of factsheets for public service agencies, to highlight the decisions and what they mean for public servants (see the bottom of the webpage).

A number of supporting documents are available on the State Services Commission proactive releases webpage under the heading State Sector Reform, including individual submissions, analysis of submissions, briefing papers and Cabinet papers.

Also see our previous story, Government consulting on significant reforms to public service.

Related media 

The next step for fixing the public service, Newsroom, 27.06.2019

Council welcomes Government crackdown on State Sector Act, Press Release: Maori Council, Scoop, 27.06.2019

New Act brings Public Service into 21st century, Scoop, Press Release: Public Service Association, 26.06.2019

Max Rashbrooke: How to build governments which work, NZ Herald, 28.09.2018

Geoff Bertram: A public business, not a public service, Stuff, 13.09.2018

Simon Chapple: Govt commissions experts because departments are run down, NZ Herald, 05.09.2018