Michael Bay might be the bloke we need to transform our public service (and make it bleed)

Stripping our public service to bare essentials is not so easy.

The public service has been doing a lot of yelping for an outfit that has shed bugger-all blood.

One of the top manadarins has revealed that the squeeze on state service backroom functions has saved just $20 million in two years.

Or $10 million a year.

Let’s stack that alongside soccer celebrity David Beckham’s earnings of $US40 million last year…

The story about the scant savings made so far in the Government’s assault on public service profligacy is told at Stuff today –

The Government has shed more than 2500 jobs in the past three years and ordered chief executives to shave their IT and human resources bills as part of a drastic overhaul of the public service.

But despite ambitious plans to save $1billion over three years, a `benchmarking’ report to be published next week will show 31 agencies and departments have managed to reduce spending by just $20m.

And the source of these data?

Why, it seems they have been bandied by none of than the highly important Gabriel Makhlouf.

Now, you might think a bloke with a name like Makhlouf should be working in India, maybe, as an elephant trainer or some such.

But nope. The moniker in this case is attached to New Zealand’s Secretary of the Treasury, which makes him a very highly ranked (and highly influential) mandarin indeed.

And as Stuff reports, he has just made a speech.

In his first major speech since taking over at No1 The Terrace, Mr Makhlouf told the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Wellington yesterday: “Some individual agencies have made substantial gains, reducing up to $8m in the cost of some functions. But overall, reduction in expenditure is limited – around $20m in inflation-adjusted terms.”

This, of course, is a very disappointing number.

In last year’s Administrative and Support Services Benchmarking Report, we are reminded, Treasury estimated government agencies could save more than $230 million a year from back-office functions.

You could buy more than a few David Beckhams (if that’s what you want) with that sort of money.

Because it hasn’t happened yet, however, we must have some more blood-letting.

And so –

Mr Makhlouf said “mindsets are shifting” in the state service but there was more “radical transformational change” to come.

And he signalled a pay freeze in the sector would continue. “Fiscal constraint is not going away any time soon … the days of everyone getting a pay rise every year simply for time served are over.

“But this is not just about short-term cuts to get through to next year’s budget. This is not just about tightening our belts. This is not a fad diet. This is about a shift to a healthier lifestyle.”

The Boss will be unveiling further upheaval for the state service – we Nats prefer to talk of “reform” – in a keynote speech this month.

Alf trusts he uses that platform to disabuse anyone who thinks the idea of getting more from less “sounds suspiciously like the political equivalent of alchemy”.

That stuff about alchemy comes from John Armstrong, a Press Gallery hack who scribbles for the NZ Herald.

Today he is saying the chief executives of the 30-plus departments and ministries who have head offices in Wellington are under huge pressure to produce what the Treasury calls “efficiency dividends”.

There are working parties, advisory groups and various consultants crawling all over the public sector, charged with finding new and better ways of doing things, from ministries sharing back-office functions to savings in IT.

The task of getting more from less has also seen the concoction of a plethora of devices to measure department performance against various standards – and against one another.

As Armstrong points out, departmental mergers and restructuring inevitably grab the headlines in this top-to-bottom overhaul of state services, and (according to Public Service Association figures) job losses now total more than 3500.

But we digress.

Let’s get back to that figure of $20 million in two years.

For comparative purposes, Alf has revisited something he posted here the other day about the Waikato District Health Board’s efforts to deal with a financial shortfall for the coming financial year of about $20 million.

Chief executive Craig Climo has told employees the board will have to find savings of $20 million for the year beginning in July this year and a further $5 million in each of the two following years.

And if savings can not be found in other areas, staff reductions are among the cost-cutting options.

Damned right.

And if a district health board in the provinces can aim to do it without whining, what’s the problem in Wellington?

Another way to look at the piddling size of $20 million is that Michael Bay, a bloke with a knack for staging visually flashy blockbuster mayhem, has budgeted that much to make his next movie.

Without 3D.

Fair to say, he is talking US dollars.

Even so, it puts the civil servants’ yelps in perspective, huh?

Come to think of it, Bay had something to do with the Transformer movies.

Maybe we should fly him in to help transform the public service.

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