Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The end of New Public Management

In the 1980's, the revolutionary government "reformed" the public service, splitting it up into competing agencies. This was supposed to produce better focus and greater accountability: agencies would focus on their area of expertise and argue their corner, and chief executives could be held accountable for tightly-defined policy targets. What it actually led to was silo-isation, key capabilities (like running elections) being left out or falling through the cracks of those policy targets, and the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. These flaws were apparent since at least the mid 1990's, and since the 2000s the trend has been in the other direction, with the creation of "mega-ministries" (like MBIE and MPI) in an effort to rebuild what Roger Douglas had destroyed.

And now, it's all going to go. The government has announced sweeping public sector reforms with the aim of restoring a unified public service. There's a lot to this, but it means that chief executives will no longer be petty monarchs of their own personal fiefdom, public servants will be employed by the public service, rather than their individual agencies, and the government will be able to set minimum standards for public sector pay and conditions (something they've had trouble with so far, which has led to wildly varying compensation for the same jobs in different agencies). It also means that core public service values, such as political neutrality, independent professional advice, and merit-based appointment, will be enshrined in law. Interestingly, "open government" is now one of those values, so there'll be a further recognition of the value of transparency. There will also be a specific "Treaty clause", recognising the public service's obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi (I guess we can expect the racist old National Party to go apeshit at that).

Its a huge change, and another nail in the coffin of the 1980's. Labour has fixed the Reserve Bank Act. They're reintroducing awards, effectively repealing the key component of the Employment Contracts Act. And now they're repealing the State Sector Act and restoring the public service. But sadly, that's not enough to undo the real damage Douglas and Richardson did to our society. Labour may fix government, but they'll still have to deal with mass-poverty, mass-debt, and a privatised state which has had all its best assets stolen in corrupt privatisations. If they really want to undo the revolution, they need to deal with those legacies too.