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Hipkins seeks joined-up thinking across state bureaucracy

Wednesday 26th June 2019

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Major reforms to the law governing the public service will force far more collaboration between government agencies on the biggest policy challenges, State Services Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Announcing the largest set of public sector reforms since the passage of the then ground-breaking State Sector Act in 1988, Hipkins outlined a radical departure from current practice that will force public sector leaders to create multi-agency teams to tackle specific issues.

"Under the changes, boards, made up of chief executives from relevant government agencies, will be established to tackle the most pressing issues," said Hipkins in a statement. "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."

Trying to solve complex policy challenges by using just one agency's expertise "doesn't work any more", he said. "These reforms will make groups of chief executives jointly accountable for delivering on complex government priorities. This can’t happen under the current Act.”

Elements of this approach were a feature of the way the government's first Well-being Budget, published May 30, was put together. They were detailed in yesterday's OECD report on the current state of the New Zealand economy.

"Guidance to agencies submitting bids indicated initiatives that align with one or more of the five Budget 2019 priorities and show cross-agency and cross-portfolio collaboration would be prioritised," the OECD report said.

Hipkins said the existing State Sector Act would be repealed and replaced with legislation that "shifts agencies from working as single departments to working as one, unified public service, to quickly mobilise and tackle specific issues, such as reducing child poverty, mental health services, climate change and the future of work."

This would create collective responsibility for policy outcomes among public sector chief executives and allow more flexible deployment of public servants on single-issue challenges.

The new legislation would also preserve "public service principles to the community, political neutrality, free and frank advice and merit-based appointments" and would be accompanied by a programme of cultural change. 

The new legislation will explicitly acknowledge the responsibility of the public service "to support the Crown to fulfil its responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi".

“What is good for Maori is good for New Zealand. The country is stronger when we improve outcomes for Maori,” Hipkins said on the same day as new Stats NZ well-being indicators showed far higher levels of distrust in Parliament, the courts, police and media among Maori than the New Zealand population as a whole.

A Public Service Bill will be drafted and introduced to Parliament in the second half of 2019.


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