27 September 2023

NEW ZEALAND: Public services targeted in poll campaigns

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A series of announcements by the major political parties contesting the 14 October General Election in New Zealand has put Public Servants in the campaign firing line.

In its latest financial statement, the governing Labour Party, led by Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins (pictured), has called for savings of up to NZ$4 billion ($A3.7 billion) over the next forecast period through to 2027.

Meanwhile the Opposition National Party, led by Chris Luxon, has also announced its intention to make similar cuts to Government spending.

Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson has previously said the Government would require public Agencies to find permanent savings, including through cutting back on contractors.

There would also be a reduction in future Budget allowances, trimming of some programs and taking back under-spends by Departments.

The National Party claimed that spending on contractors and consultants by Labour had increased by NZ$717 million ($A659 million).

Public policy expert, Grant Duncan says the country was “still going through the shockwaves of COVID-19”, leading to pressure to downsize public spending.

He said the Government was prone to accusations of too much use of consultants and the big consulting firms, and these attacks were always quite effective politically.

“People are always easily convinced there is too much waste, too many bureaucrats, too much money spent on consulting firms,” Professor Duncan said.

“The National Party document talks about cutting costs and numbers in the Public Service as one way of funding or balancing the books with its tax cuts.”

He said it was “very clear from its statement that on day one Ministers will look out for what they can cut, although you could argue Labour is doing that already”.

The National Party document states that incoming Ministers would instruct Departmental Chief Executives “to go line-by-line through existing expenditure to identify spending areas that are not critical to core front-line delivery”.

It identified examples that included reducing advertising and public relations activities, and work programs such as income insurance schemes, Fair Pay Agreements, Industry Transformation Plans, and Labour’s modified Resource Management Act housing regulations.

In terms of numbers, the party would reduce the Public Service headcount by leaving vacancies empty, stopping new hiring, and retiring working groups and task forces. It would also stop office refurbishments and upgrades to property leases.

Wellington, 5 September 2023

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