Public service falling short on evaluating policy, Treasury boss says

Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf

The public service needs to pick up its act in evaluating new policy as it embarks on its most radical reform since the 1980s, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf says.

The government is looking to tear down walls between departments and ministries as part of its Better Public Services programme to create narrower goals with a more co-operative approach by its agencies.

Among those goals is what Mr Makhlouf calls "policy stewardship", in that the state sector "should understand the impact that policy is having over the medium and long term and test spending in existing areas to see if it's delivering the results we need", he said at an event hosted by law firm Chapman Tripp in Wellington.

"I'm not sure our policy stewardship is as good as it could be, in particular that our policy evaluations are as good as they could be or that we're sharing our analysis with as broad a constituency as we might," he said.

"There are some very good examples of focusing on medium-term outcomes – the latest welfare reforms are a great demonstration of this shift in thinking – but it's an approach we should be taking in other areas across the state sector."

Mr Makhlouf says cabinet has signed off on regulatory stewardship expectations for the state sector, where departments articulate what their regimes are trying to achieve, what costs and impacts they may impose, and what the risks are.

That includes reporting or acting on problems and opportunities to improve and might warrant the removal of regulation if it is no longer needed, he says.

Earlier this month Treasury, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the State Services Commission, collectively known as the central agencies, launched a Better Public Services Seed Fund to accelerate reform priorities.

Mr Makhlouf wants the current round of reforms to rival those of the 1980s and make New Zealand's public services "an exemplar for the world again".

He name-checked the Benchmarking Administrative and Support Services programme – which aims to cut down on fragmented back office functions – as driving efficiency, saying it has successfully trimmed 30 percent from the office space used by five government agencies.

Mr Makhlouf talked down fears about a centralised data centre, saying the anonymised information will help the government "get much better at targeting effort and resources into services and interventions that make a real difference" and ensure "they are good value for money".

(BusinessDesk)

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Says the man in charge of the dept with the brilliant policy idea of a finance company guarantee that has cost taxpayers a fortune bailing out investors.

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This is fabulous... as is any improvement to public sector deliverables.

Hopefully, it will assist with not only greater efficiencies and productivities but also with the sharing of information between government departments to help those most in need – but also to help catch the deliberate, malicious fraudsters, too!

The cynic in me, though, can’t help but wonder how the PSA and associated unions will negatively react to the inevitability of their membership numbers decreasing due to efficiency gains across the whole public sector and the resulting loss of FTE / head count?

Would those unions be so spiteful as to encourage individuals to actively be “passive aggressive” against these “new moves” by a National government, just for their own self-interest and patch protection – at the cost of greater efficiency and better social services?

Do the unions have form in this? Let’s just look at the education sector unions and how they try and thwart charter schools and the positive benefits that can bring to the failing 20% of school leavers at present. It’s all about patch protection from those unions while burying heads in the sand over the positive results these schools have had for minorities and the 20% or so who leave school illiterate.

Just wait for the orchestrated, co-ordinated shrilling from the PSA, etc, about how they’re now being driven like slaves being made accountable and how they need to work harder with less for a full 40 hours a week no less … and no increase in pay either, etc…

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A lot of this stuff is actually quite positive; and it's great Treasury and a few other agencies and some ministers are open about the need for improvement.

I've read these reports and seen practical examples of agencies trying to implement it.

One of the biggest missings is that the talk about 'outcomes' often hasn't translated beyond 'outputs'.

Time and again I see measures that have not yet moved beyond what an agency does (output), to what impact those actions have (outcome).

Only when that happens will government effectively connect policy with the societal outcomes intended by that policy.

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How is the Central Agencies Shared Services doing? Meeting customer expectations? Beating financial and performance targets right from Year 1 itself? Standing up as an exemplar to the public sector worlwide in every respect?

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If you are not sure of something and you are a manager then you have an obligation to get sure yes or no PDQ or get out of the way for someone else who can.

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Beware - These treasury economists are armed and dangerous: "Watch out for their invisible hands."

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Warms the cockles of me heart.

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Centralising govt. IT systems has proven to be recipe for disaster for privacy and robustness.

So great, let's centralise everything into one huge database for all of NZ govt ... and when the whole thing collapses or grinds to halt, we'll be rid of all of them at once.

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Makhlouf, like most Wellington insiders, cannot see beyond his nose.

80% of the policy jobs in central government should be cut. These jobs deliver nothing useful.

Government agencies should be restricted to those that actually deliver real public services - paying people their dole, building highways, collecting taxes. The managers of those agencies should know policy options for delivering their services and without employing countless policy analysts.

Treasury itself, the only I restructured agency for the last 30 years should be split into three departments - "real" Treasury (cash and debt management), a budget office, and an economics group. The latter should be downsized to a small core of economists or maybe eliminated all together.

As for IT, numerous small IT systems are the only thing the public sector has a chance off managing.

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