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”

Public posts and the code of conduct: two former Labour MPs are brought into the spotlight

Buzz from the Beehive

It’s been educative, noting who is in and who is out when it comes to public service big-wigs keeping or losing their jobs when they breach rules which call for them to be politically impartial

Former Labour MPs have done better than Rob Campbell, who was sacked as chair of Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand and the Environmental Protection Authority.

  • Steve Maharey will keep his jobs as chairman of ACC, Pharmac and Education NZ, after the PM was advised that Maharey’s political commentary breached the rules for political impartiality, “but at the lower end of the spectrum”.
  • Longtime Labour MP and former party president Ruth Dyson, deputy chairperson of the EQC and Fire and Emergency, has admitted she hadn’t read the rules saying public service board members should act with political impartiality. She has been questioned about a tweet which criticised National’s Christopher Luxon. At time of writing, she still had her jobs.

The fate of Maharey was aired in a statement from the Prime Minister posted on The Beehive website. Continue reading “Public posts and the code of conduct: two former Labour MPs are brought into the spotlight”

Dr Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  National’s progressive childcare-consultocracy switch

* Dr Bryce Edwards writes –

National’s pitch to voters is both progressive and shrewd. Christopher Luxon declared a war on business consultants in his state of the nation speech yesterday, promising to crack down on the public service’s $1.7bn overuse of expensive business consultants and contractors, and use the savings to fund an expensive new $249m annual subsidy for childcare costs of those in work.

A Populist attack on business consultants in government

External contractors have become an increasingly large part of Labour’s public policy- making process – especially those from the “Big Four” business consultancies of Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young (EY) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). They charge government departments huge amounts – such as the $9000 per week, per consultant, for the failed RNZ-TVNZ merger.

The overuse of “consultocrats” is now costing the taxpayer $1.7bn a year. Luxon announced that National was going to focus on reducing that figure by at least 25 per cent, or $400m, and repurpose the savings to low- and middle-income families. Continue reading “Dr Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  National’s progressive childcare-consultocracy switch”

Public service review finds procurement and conflict management practices at four agencies fell below standard

Buzz from the Beehive

The statement we were looking for was not to be found on the Beehive website, when we checked early this afternoon.   But the issue we hoped would be addressed in a statement from the Beehive was publicised on the Public Service Commission website.

Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes released the findings of a review into how public service agencies managed conflicts of interest while procuring the services of Ka Awatea Services Ltd (KAS) and Kawai Catalyst Ltd (KC).

Hughes’ statement, curiously, made no mention of the names of Nanaia  Mahuta or her husband, Gannin Ormsby.

The report on the review, on the other hand, makes several references to Mahuta and Gannin Ormsby, her husband, as well as to other members of the Ormsby family.  

The Nats found enough in the report to justify issuing a statement headed 

Serious Flaws In Public Service Procurement

The Public Service Commission’s report into contracts linked to Cabinet Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s family has exposed serious flaws in how the public service deals with conflicts of interest, National’s Public Service spokesperson Simeon Brown says.

Brown mentioned both Mahuta and Gannin Ormsby in his statement, which noted that the report

“… suggests the public service has developed a culture of carelessness in how it procures contracts and manages perceived conflicts of interest, undermining public confidence.

“The findings of the report show the Ministry for the Environment had several opportunities to address issues with their procurement processes into awarding a contract to Ms Mahuta’s husband Gannin Ormsby. Instead of being driven by effective and robust procurement processes, the ministry was driven by its own deadlines.

“Even more concerning, Kāinga Ora did not even ask about any conflicts of interest during its procurement process with Mr Ormsby’s company, a basic requirement for government agencies.”

Brown said Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins needs to step up and explain why agencies are failing to practice effective and robust procurement processes and how agencies deal with conflicts of interest.

But at time of writing, Hipkins had yet to step up and say something about  the report. 

In a nutshell, the review aimed to determine whether public service agencies had appropriately identified and managed any conflicts of interest in their contractual relationships with KAS and KC.

It found:

  • Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry for the Environment failed to properly identify and manage perceived conflicts because they didn’t follow what were otherwise sound agency policies and processes.
  • a minor perceived conflict with Kāinga Ora was not identified because the agency failed to ask about conflicts of interest during the contracting process.
  • there were no conflicts of interest in relation to Department of Conservation contracts, but its contract management was poor.

Overall, the review found agency procurement and conflict management practices at the four agencies fell short of the standards expected of public service agencies. It also found tighter processes for assessing perceived conflicts of interest are needed in the agencies, including where conflicts involve Ministers, and that procurement practices need to improve, in particular the way those agencies manage contracts under $100,000.

The review found no evidence of favouritism, bias, or undue influence over agency decisions in relation to KAS or KC due to any connection with a Minister. The actions of Ministers, the directors of KAS and KC, and members of the public, were outside the scope of this review. However, the review did not identify any matter that would require referral to another oversight body.

While Chris Hipkins (we would like to think) is having his media team work on an appropriate statement, his Cabinet colleagues have been –

Hastening to shut down the scallop fishery in the Coromandel

The two remaining open areas in the Coromandel scallop fishery will close, after new information showed scallops are in decline.

Rushing to compensate historical abuse claimants

A phased roll-out of faster claim payments for survivors of abuse in State care has begun, with the first claimants now receiving offers, Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins and Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni say. 

Rapid payments by the Ministry of Social Development are being prioritised for survivors who are seriously ill or unwell, aged over 70, or have waited the longest to get their claims considered.

The first set of rapid payments are being made by MSD, which has about 3000 historic claims – more than 90% of all the current historical claims being processed by four government agencies.

Sepuloni explains that this is an important step which enables survivors to choose whether to go through a rapid payment process, and ensuring survivors can determine the path the works best for them.

Welcoming the delivery of the the RNZAF’s first Poseidon

Minister of Defence Peeni Henare today marked the arrival of the first of Aotearoa New Zealand’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft at the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Base at Ohakea.

This is the first of four new P-8A Poseidon aircraft bought by the Government “through its historic investment to modernise New Zealand’s defence force”, Henare said.

The Government invested a record $2.53 billion to upgrade our Defence capability in Budget 2018, he recalled, and this included $2.3 billion purchase to replace the aging P-3K2 Orion which had been in service with the RNZAF since the 1960s.

Who was Minister of Defence in 2018?  Oh, yes.  New Zealand First’s Ron Mark.

Thanking retiring Ministers and MPs while (we suspect) hoping certain others will announce their retirements before long, too

Six of the Government’s 64 MPs will retire at the 2023 election, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.

Three ministers – Poto Williams, Aupito William Sio and David Clark – are to retire, along with MPs Jamie Strange, Marja Lubeck and Paul Eagle. All will stay in parliament until the election.

This is another statement where some members of the Point of Order team hoped to find the name of Nanaia Mahuta. Alas, no.

The PM did say:

“These retirements will have no immediate impact on Cabinet with a reshuffle not scheduled until early next year.”

We can wait patiently until early next year.   

Taking further action against Putin and his croneys

New sanctions imposed as part of New Zealand’s ongoing response to the war in Ukraine are targeting individuals and networks behind disinformation campaigns that support the Putin war effort.

Oh, look – the name of Nanaia Mahuta has come into one of the latest bunch of Beehive statements.

As Foreign Affairs she announced a further round of sanctions on 23 individuals who are supporting the illegal Russian invasion.

Those sanctioned this time include the Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, the CEO of Channel-1 Russia, and key personnel from Russian media outlets including InfoRos, SouthFront, and the Strategic Culture Foundation. 

Since the passing of the Russia Sanctions Act in March, New Zealand has imposed sanctions on more than 1,200 individuals and entities, and has imposed unprecedented trade measures which has seen two-way trade with Russia fall drastically.

More information about sanctions, travel bans, and export controls against Russia and Belarus; as well as diplomatic, military and economic support to Ukraine can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website here.

Expanding the Green List to help fill labour shortages

Immigration Minister Michael Wood today announced a suite of measures to further support New Zealand businesses through the global labour shortage and attract more high skilled workers long term.

The  government has approved over 94,000 job positions for international recruitment, granted over 40,000 working holiday visas, reopened the Pacific Access Category and Samoa Quota, delivered the largest increase in a decade to the RSE scheme, and resumed the Skilled Migrant Category and Parent Category to strengthen our international offering.

And – at long last –  registered nurses and midwives will have an immediate pathway to residence, including those already in New Zealand.

“Since the pandemic 3,474 nurses have arrived in country, but it’s clear we need to do more to encourage nurses to choose New Zealand. Adding these roles will further build on the attractiveness of New Zealand to those looking to set themselves and their families up long term. 

Paying special attention at a special ceremony to Pacific youth at Parliament

A new cohort of Pacific young people have been recognised at Parliament for their excellence across various sectors of New Zealand society at the 2022 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards (PMPYA).

Packing their bags for a flight to Canada to bat for global biodiversity targets

Conservation Minister Poto Williams will lead Aotearoa New Zealand’s delegation to COP15, the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal this week.

 A key negotiation at COP15 will be the long-standing proposal to protect 30% of land and sea areas by 2030. 

New targets on combatting invasive species, reducing harm from pesticides, and eliminating plastic pollution will also be important.


Programme to foster greater diversity in the state services (including intelligence work) gets under way

The spooks are becoming more diverse.

We say this not because we have blown their cover but because we were told so by the Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, Priyanca Radhakrishnan.

The Minister was enthusing about the the newly established graduate programme for ethnic communities, which begins today and will span several public agencies.

New Zealand has 213 ethnicities and more than 160 languages are spoken here, she said.

Ethnic communities make up nearly 20 per cent of our population.

The Ethnic Communities Graduate Programme will provide a pathway into the Public Service for skilled graduates from ethnic communities while improving cultural competency across the Public Sector.

Twenty-three graduates will start work across 12 agencies,

“…  including the intelligence community, as part of the Government’s response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain on 15 March 2019, which highlighted the need for more diversity across the Public Service.” Continue reading “Programme to foster greater diversity in the state services (including intelligence work) gets under way”

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”

Sir Ron is reduced to Ron: asset-stripper strips himself of his knighthood before the PM gets around to it

Firefighters have been honoured while an asset stripper has been dishonoured – he dishonoured himself, actually – in the past 24 hours.  

The dishonouring involved Ron Brierley, once a famous name in business and cricketing circles in the the capital city, who didn’t wait for the PM to strip him of his knighthood.  He has written to the Clerk of the Executive Council to tender his resignation as a Knight Bachelor.

The Queen has been informed. We imagine she was not amused, if Brierley happened to provide her with the explanation behind his decision to become plain Ron instead of Sir Ron.

News of this was announced on International Firefighters Day, an event which triggered a statement from Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti.

She mixed her admiration for firefighters with some braying about spending some of the government’s Covid-19 funding on building fire stations: Continue reading “Sir Ron is reduced to Ron: asset-stripper strips himself of his knighthood before the PM gets around to it”

Victims of a no-deal Brexit: the civil service?

When London’s Sunday Times splashed Government contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit – five pages of fearsome consequences – the public response was surprisingly tepid. That they appear to have been prepared under the previous administration might lessen the scare factor. But this sort of material seems to be losing its power to shock, surprise – and convince.  Partisans of both sides mine the data to support their views.  But it may be useful in another way.

Continue reading “Victims of a no-deal Brexit: the civil service?”

State services: what’s  behind the “upheaval”?

State  Services  Commissioner  Peter Hughes, announcing five top appointments in the state sector,  said he  decided to deal with the vacancies as a package to remove uncertainty and maintain momentum in key roles and portfolios.

The Dominion-Post headlined the news as“Upheaval for public service”.  Richard Harman  in  Politik, labeling it  as the   most comprehensive  reshuffle of  top public service  management  “ever”, argued the govt is saying the move reflects its desire that a more unified old-style public service be further developed.  David Farrar, in Kiwiblog, noting the  appointments  were  made by transfer,  thought this is the first time this power has been used.

“It is very good to see these decisions made before most of the roles fall vacant. This means no need for an Acting CE, and gives good continuity and direction”.

Equal Employment Opportunities  Commisioner  Dr  Jackie  Blue has  a  different  take  on it.  She  blasted the process  as  unfair to  top  women in  the  public service,  and contended  the  vacant    positions  should have been contestable.      Continue reading “State services: what’s  behind the “upheaval”?”