Unifying the state sector? What does that mean?

It has come to my attention that proposals are being considered to dismantle the entire state sector and start again. The proposals come amidst continuing frustration over the delivery of services in social welfare, health, education, housing and a plethora of other sectors. But how much planning has been given to the proposals?

Continuing change, simply to say that the Government wanted to be seen as acting decisively on a matter is not helpful at best and possibly quite damaging at its worst. It leaves both the public and the private sectors wondering what is the aim of the reforms. It removes continuity of supply in terms of delivering promised services and at a quality that is acceptable.

This is not to say that I disagree with the proposals, as there is plenty of room for improvement in all sectors of Government and state sector is no different. But I wonder how much of it would exist if the Chief Executives and other senior staff in the agencies that operate in this sector were vetted properly. There are ways of instituting change in the public service without simply tearing it up and starting again:

  1. When agency bosses are appointed perhaps more effort should be made to encourage people from lower down the ranks to move up instead of hiring people not necessarily from New Zealand and potentially with no ability to relate to how their agency impacts on New Zealand
  2. Have them sign – if they do not already – a declaration of any prior criminal record, including being vetted by the Police in the same way that people working as teachers, social workers and early childhood education staff would be expected to
  3. Perhaps have a minimum of x number of years experience in the sector that they want to work in in New Zealand so that when they take a higher role they at least know about the sector

To some extent this is a great advert for something that is sorely missing in the education system, which Mr Hipkins also by chance happens to be the Minister for: Civics. We lack a compulsory Civics course in Years 12-13 at High School, which among other things could include a segment on how key Acts of Parliament such as the State Sector Act, the Social Welfare Act and so forth work – being high school students they would not be expected to know these acts intimately as I doubt even many experienced civil servants know the Acts as well as they probably should, but to be able to write a paragraph in an exam detailing the basics would be helpful. It would also help to unravel what I think is one of the great mysteries to the average person on the street – what does a bureaucrat do each day and how do they justify their job.

Mr Hipkins has a unique opportunity here. As Minister of two separate yet somewhat interlinked portfolio’s he has the opportunity to stream line certain aspects that over lap. By addressing the need for a Civics paper so that all New Zealanders are made to learn how the legal system Mr Hipkins might well be encouraging people to become more informed about the changes being wrought on their lives by Acts of Parliament. And if that makes them better informed about the state sector, all the better.

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