Magazine article New Zealand Management

Politics: A Radical Departs the Public Service Still Sparking

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Politics: A Radical Departs the Public Service Still Sparking

Article excerpt

Byline: Colin James

Peter Hughes moves on after 10 years at the top of the Ministry of Social Development at the end of September. He takes with him -- to the academic School of Government and some other appointments -- his pre-eminent reputation as a chief executive. And he's still pushing change.

The Maori party reckons whanau ora is a revolutionary social policy initiative. But Hughes already had established the base from which whanau ora's aim of a wraparound service could be developed: Community Link centres.

There will be 80 Community Link centres by end-2011 and 130 by end-2012. The aim is to transform the benefit and social assistance systems so they address in one place a range of people's needs supplied by several services. They replace Work and Income centres which essentially dole out benefits and get people work-ready and into work.

Building on that, Hughes wants to transform the whole public service model.

The public service was transformed in 1912 from an outfit susceptible to crony appointments to a merit-based, professional service. It was transformed again in the late 1980s-early 1990s when then-modern management techniques were imported, focusing on outputs -- things agencies did -- instead of inputs -- things agencies used -- handing to chief executives and managers control of their staffs, budgets and processes and introducing accrual accounting and fiscal transparency.

Some managers took their new freedoms seriously, Hughes told an Institute of Public Administration seminar in July: one built his own regional IT system, another filled a warehouse with office furniture and on sold it at a profit and a third built two buildings for the same function.

Overall, this "new public management", as some called it, delivered much greater efficiency and focused much more directly on "clients" -- those getting the service. There was also innovation. But agencies became "siloed" from each other, which from the mid-1990s prompted much talk -- but not much realisation -- of "joined-up government".

Hughes wants a third transformation -- from producing outputs to achieving outcomes, with services integrated horizontally. …

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