Tuesday, August 03, 2010

More cuts

National is swinging the axe again, this time at policy advisors. Apparently the amount spent on policy advice - telling the government how to do what it wants to do, and pointing out potential pitfalls - grew from $510 million in 2003 to $880 million in 2009. There's a reason for this, of course: Labour rebuilt the public service so that it had in-house capability, rather than having to hire outside consultants, ensuring that "contestability" (a buzzword for the NeoLiberal public sector reforms of the 80's) was real rather than a mask for under resourced departments being outgunned by an over resourced Treasury. But National sees all public spending as bad, and may also have particular axes to grind against particular departments (e.g. Justice, who keep pointing out flaws in the government's headline law and order policies) - so its going to sack some people.

We saw the result of this sort of short-sightedness back in the 90's. Departments were starved of funding, but still needed to provide policy advice to their Ministers. And so they turned to overpaid outside consultants, frequently the same people they'd just sacked. Result: they paid more for the same advice, while reducing their capacity to provide quality advice in future. But money flowed into private pockets, and the consultants made out like bandits.

This is a conscious policy of running down our public service. And it will mean governments will get worse advice, and pay more for it. That clearly doesn't matter to National - but it should matter to us. Bad advice means bad government. And National seems intent on delivering it.