Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The Big “consultocrats” debate needs to carry on

* Dr Bryce Edwards writes –

A parasitic blight on our democracy? Or a useful and necessary aid to our government departments? Those are two perspectives on the usefulness of the Wellington consultant class that contract to government agencies.

The role of business management consultants took centre stage last week when National’s Christopher Luxon called time on the over-use of “consultocrats” in his state of the nation speech. Luxon pledged to cut the use of contractors by 25 per cent off the $1.7bn that was spent last year by government departments and agencies such as Te Whatu Ora and Waka Kotahi.

Jackpot for National, disaster for Labour

The debate has proved to be a winner for National, as they have been able to dominate the last week in politics on an issue that very much has Labour on the back foot. At the end of the week, the Herald’s Audrey Young pronounced that National “has finally hit the jackpot” on the issue.

She explained how bad it was for Labour and the Prime Minister:

“it was the first time it had had Prime Minister Chris Hipkins squirming. No matter how much he said he wasn’t going to defend the rising costs of consultants, he had to explain why much of the expenditure was justified which, of course, was pretty much defending the rising costs of consultants. He was squarely in the frame as well because the ministry with the largest expenditure was Education when he was the minister.” 

Continue reading “Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The Big “consultocrats” debate needs to carry on”

Rob Campbell’s dismissal from Te Whatu Ora has alarm bells ringing not just through the capital

Prime Minister Chris  Hipkins  appeared like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights when confronted on the AM show  with questions on why Steve Maharey, chairman of Pharmac, had  not been sacked like Rob Campbell from  his role for  being “political”   and criticizing the  National Party in  a column.

When Hipkins got  his  breath back, he told  viewers  that the  Maharey case  was quite  different: Maharey had  said he was  sorry  and he  would not offend again.

Campbell, of  course,  had  no  intention  of  saying sorry  or of not  appearing in print again, and we did not have to  wait long for that  to happen.

Here  he was, this week, in another newspaper column telling  us

 “… in the ideal world that  seems to be  preferred in PyongPoneke, there seems  no room for open debate, and each word means  what the Public Service Commissioner says it  means”.

Continue reading “Rob Campbell’s dismissal from Te Whatu Ora has alarm bells ringing not just through the capital”

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The need to depoliticise the public service

  • Dr Bryce Edwards writes – 

Is the Chair of Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand, Rob Campbell, trying to rid himself of a job he no longer wants? The idea that he’s trying to get himself fired is the most obvious conclusion to draw from his overt attempts over the weekend to stoke up opposition to the National Party’s Three Waters reform proposals.

The health boss has published his strident views on the National Party and its leader, implying they are being racist. His partisan statement is a clear breach of the code of conduct for senior public servants like himself.

Such politicised public statements are not normally acceptable from what is meant to be an impartial and professional public service. The bureaucracy serves the public and democracy best when it is not operating along partisan lines nor helping the election chances of one political party or another. Continue reading “Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The need to depoliticise the public service”

PM makes NZ a world leader

The resignation of Jacinda Ardern has already made more global headlines than you might expect for that of the PM of a small commonwealth nation like say Sierra Leone (population 6.5 million) or Singapore (population 5.5 million).

But international observers might not be too surprised by Ardern’s announcement that she has not got enough carbon-based fuel in the tank.  That’s been evident for some time and being PM is a ferociously tough job.

Continue reading “PM makes NZ a world leader”

GRAHAM ADAMS: Report into Mahuta family contracts leaves questions unanswered

GRAHAM ADAMS writes –  

It is ironic that the release of the long-awaited report into government contracts awarded to Nanaia Mahuta’s family has been overshadowed by an even bigger controversy over her role in a secretive attempt to entrench an anti-privatisation clause in the Three Waters legislation.

The publication of the review by Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes on Tuesday must have come as a profound relief to the embattled Minister of Local Government.

Mahuta particularly welcomed the statement that Hughes had found “no evidence of favouritism, bias, or undue influence over agency decisions in relation to KAS (Ka Awatea Services) or KC [Kawai Catalyst] due to the connections with the minister”.
Ka Awatea Services is owned by Mahuta’s husband, Gannin Ormsby, while Kawai Catalyst is owned by Gannin Ormsby’s nephew and his wife — Tamoko and Waimirirangi Ormsby.

The government contracts awarded to the consultancies by four government departments — Kāinga Ora; the Ministry for the Environment; Department of Conservation; and the Ministry of Māori Development / Te Puni Kōkiri — totalled more than $200,000.
Continue reading “GRAHAM ADAMS: Report into Mahuta family contracts leaves questions unanswered”

Politician keeps promise – markets fall

They suspected that they might be electing a radical, but to their great surprise, Britain’s Conservative party members found out on Friday that they had also elected a party leader who meant what she said.

British politics may take a little while to recover.

New finance chief Kwasi Kwarteng delivered a package outside the parameters of fiscal orthodoxy, headlined with big personal and corporate tax cuts and some scary debt projections.  Certainly the Treasury advice could be summarised as ‘you’re on your own, mate’.  But then smart ministers know that anyway.

Continue reading “Politician keeps promise – markets fall”

NZ public service reform for the UK?

It’s not unusual for governments to decide the solution to their frustrations is to tweak the machinery of government.  Nor for senior public servants to channel those ambitions to safety.

But things look more serious in the UK.  A sequence of reports from high-powered ‘independent’ commissions and well-connected think tanks are floating proposals which bear more than a resemblance to the state sector reforms implemented in New Zealand at the end of last century.

For one of the key players, the seeds of change were planted back in 2010. Back then, Michael Gove (now the Minister for the Cabinet Office) was put in charge of education.  He coined the term ‘the Blob’ to describe the coalition of resistant civil servants and external ideologists who opposed his proposals to change the school system.  And helping him on the Blob job was Dominic Cummings – PM Boris Johnson’s erstwhile chief strategist.

Continue reading “NZ public service reform for the UK?”

State service heads face much the same challenge as journalists – getting through to Ardern’s Ministers is a struggle

Andrea Vance, writing at Stuff, has taken the Ardern government to task for its media “management,” how ministers evade questions, how they deflect interviews and questions all, of course, in the name of the PM’s much-vaunted transparency.

Well, it seems she has stumbled on to something bigger than her focus on journalists struggling to get information.  From our inquiries we have found that heads of departments, ministries and agencies are facing something of the same challenge.

Firstly, ministers are said to be keeping permanent heads at a distance. Some find it hard to secure scheduled appointments.

In the good old days, the permanent head of each department saw his or her minister before Monday Cabinet meetings – and frequently in between.

Now there is a layer of “advisers” between them. Continue reading “State service heads face much the same challenge as journalists – getting through to Ardern’s Ministers is a struggle”

The RBNZ’s staff numbers surge – but the governor warns he wants more (especially for supervision)

Staff expenses at the Reserve Bank  – which have increased by an average 4.4% a year since 2009/11 – surged by 14.8% in the 12 months to 2018/19.

Total staff numbers increased by an average 3.4 a year during those nine years  but shot up by 19  in 2018/19 from 255 to 274.

But wait.  We need more – or rather, the governor says he needs more.

The Taxpayers Union reckons we should ignore him.

According to the Dominion-Post, Adrian Orr this week told a parliamentary select committee the bank is anticipating “a much more significant increase” over its next five-year funding period.

“The begging letter is on its way to the Treasury for inspection and then we will be going into our funding agreement discussion with the Minister of Finance in mid-March,” he said.

Orr told Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure select committee he was not comfortable talking about the scale of the possible resourcing increase ahead of those discussions, but said it was “30 per cent perhaps”.

“The biggest percentage change in staff would be in supervision.” Continue reading “The RBNZ’s staff numbers surge – but the governor warns he wants more (especially for supervision)”

How the management of monetary policy (and other RBNZ activities) are being steeped in Maori mythology

Acculturation – the cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture or a merging of cultures – is increasingly evident in this country’s public agencies.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has not escaped the process.  In July 2018, soon after Adrian Orr became the governor, the Otago Daily Times reported the new  head of the country’s august central bank was planning to shift the mindset of the institution towards better embracing the rich cultural diversity of the country.

Since he had taken up the post (the ODT reported)

… phrases like tikanga Maori and te reo have begun to feature prominently on its priority list.


Under his watch, the bank’s Statement of Intent, where it sets out its strategic objectives to the Government for the next four years, highlights its intent to embed  te reo and tikanga Maori into the culture of the bank. Continue reading “How the management of monetary policy (and other RBNZ activities) are being steeped in Maori mythology”