The politics behind the big public service top jobs reshuffle
By Richard Harman (author)
The State Services Commission yesterday unveiled what is believed to be the most comprehensive reshuffle of top public service management ever.
And the Government is saying the move reflects its desire that a more unified old-style public service be further developed.
But that desire could run head on into the ambitions of politicians like Shane Jones who revealed yesterday that he wants the forestry business unit within the Ministry of Primary Industries to become an independent “branded” entity.
The move by State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes yesterday is in contrast to the previous Government’s idea that people could come in from the private sector to run Government departments.
One such experiment, hiring John Allen from NZ Post to run the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is widely considered to have been a failure.
Now the emphasis will be on developing on the public sector’s top management from within the public service.
The moves announced yesterday were:
- Following the end of Helene Quilter’s term, which has been extended through to 30 June 2019, as Secretary of Defence. Andrew Bridgman, currently Secretary for Justice has been appointed to replace her.
- Andrew Kibblewhite, currently Chief Executive, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has been appointed to Secretary for Justice.
- Brook Barrington, currently Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been appointed Chief Executive, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
- Following the retirement of Martyn Dunne, the current Director-General for Primary Industries, Ray Smith, currently Chief Executive, Department of Corrections, has been appointed to replace him.
- Following the decision of current Secretary for Internal Affairs Colin MacDonald to step down and pursue new opportunities, Paul James, currently Chief Executive, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, has been appointed Secretary for Internal Affairs.
State Services Minister Chris Hipkins told POLITIK this was the first time the powers under the 1988 State Sector Act to transfer Chief Executives had been used.
“What it does say is that we have got talent at the top end of the public service that we risk losing if we just go through a cycle of vacancy and appointment every time whereas the ability to keep talent by moving it around is something we definitely want to do more of,” he said.
“One of the problems with the State sector as it stands now is that each department is a silo and one of our challenges as a Government is to join all the silos back up again.
“The idea of a career public service where people could work in a number of different agencies over the course of their public service career is one that we want to restore.
“It shouldn’t be that you work for just one agency; you are actually working for the public service.
“So that ability to move between departments and agencies is something we want to foster more of.”
But ironically while the management reshuffle was being announced yesterday, a major Government department, the Ministry of Primary industries, spent much of the day in front of a Select Committee explaining its current restructure.
It is being restructured into four separate divisions; Fisheries New Zealand, Forestry New Zealand, Biosecurity New Zealand and New Zealand Food Safety as well as a core policy and back office function retained by the Ministry itself.
"As far as biosecurity and food safety are concerned we are setting up units which are solely focussed on those two areas," Agriculture Minister, Damien O'Connor, told the committee.
“What this has enabled is to give people within those agencies a clear line of responsibility without perhaps having to refer to different levels to other obligations of the Ministry.
The retiring Direct-General of Agriculture, Martyn Dunne, said the restructure gave the Ministry the best of both worlds.
“We’ve got a functionality that people can focus on and we’ve still retained the danger of falling into silos.
“The history of the public service is that you find people who are in specific areas go into silos and don’t share things.
“And the outcome of this has been that we have been able to give focus, strong leadership and at the same time making sure that is shared across the board.”
But the ambitions of Hipkins and Dunne to avoid silos in the public service might run headlong into the ambitions of Forestry Minister Shane Jones who presides over one of the new MPI divisions, Te Uru Rakau, the embryonic forest service which will be based in Rotorua.
He also appeared in front of the Primary Production Select Committee yesterday.
Jones said he was currently going through the process of taking to Cabinet the final shape and form of the unit in Rotorua.
“I’m expecting that once Te Uru Rakau is up and running, we will have between 200 and no more than 300 full-time equivalents," he said.
“They will not be exclusively in Rotorua.
“They will be spread between Rotorua and Wellington.”
Julie Collins, the head of Te Uru Rakau, said the unit already had 80 employees.
But just what the eventual status of Te Uru Rakau would be was not quite so clear.
“There is probably a debatable point as to whether there is some way of achieving a standalone agency that gives a suitable level of branding priority to forestry without settling loose a whole set of arguable duplication costs,” said Jones.
National’s former Agriculture Minister, Nathan Guy, reminded Jones that all that had been said so far was that Te Uru Rakau was a business unit within MPI.
However, Jones revealed that he had bigger ambitions for the unit.
“We’ve got a branded business unit at the moment,” he said.
“But the journey that I am on is to create a separate state entity called Te Uru Rakau, but we are not there yet."
That exchange crystallised the challenge for both Peter Hughes and Chris Hipkins --- a unified public service, merged together to avoid silos is fine in theory but politicians have an historic and inbuilt desire to create empires.
Jones is a highly experienced bureaucrat himself who has a “cut the crap” approach to the way his departments work but he is also an NZ First politician who knows only too well that getting re-elected will be an uphill battle and that the more profile he can build for himself and NZ First, the more likely he will be to win that battle.
But in the meantime in the loftier realms of the public service, something of the old unified public service has begun to return.