Thursday, January 10, 2013

The cost of cuts

Back in the 90's, then then-National government cut the public service to the bone. But the work it was expected to do didn't decrease, so the result was that expensive consultants were hired to perform basic tasks. Now, its happening again:

documents supplied as part of [the Ministry of Education's] 2011-12 financial review show it hired external consultants to conduct basic functions such as responding to Official Information Act (OIA) requests and writing speeches.

New Zealand Education Consultants was paid $49,707 between August 2011 and this month to help with the Kawerau School merger.

Sara Cunningham received $115 an hour to provide OIA ministerial support, Tammy Thompson $75 an hour as a ministerial writer and Caravel Group was paid $170 an hour to write business cases. Tuck Grye earned a total of $89,592 in the 2011-12 financial year for evaluating requests for information.

"Ministerials" is bureacratese for "answering the Minister's questions" - in particular, drafting response to their questions in Parliament. There is no more basic function in the public service than this, and it is central to the chain of accountability which allows government decisions to be perceived as legitimate. Outsourcing it is basically giving up on any pretence that a Ministry is fit for purpose. As for outsourcing OIAs, Ministry of Education receives 450 OIA requests a year - more than enough to justify retaining in-house expertise, which you can bet will be a damn sight cheaper than an inflated consultant rate of $115 an hour.

National's "cost-cutting" is really just another form of waste. It strips core capability from the public service, while requiring them to hire it back at inflated rates. We get reduced accountability and a public service which is no longer fit for purpose. But National's consultant friends are laughing all the way to the bank.