Magazine article Public Sector

State Sector Reforms - a Missed Opportunity

Magazine article Public Sector

State Sector Reforms - a Missed Opportunity

Article excerpt

Public sector agencies are under pressure to be more innovative and flexible while the expectations of ministers and the public rise and budgets shrink.

The Government recently amended the State Sector Act in the hope of achieving the step-change needed. The State Services Minister went so far as to describe the reforms as once-in-a-generation transformational change.

The legislative changes were intended to support the government's Better Public Services programme which calls for the removal of barriers and a more joined-up approach to the state sector, as well as improving leadership across the state services.

There is nothing wrong with these principles and there are some positives.

They include the focus on a whole-ofsystem view of the state services, on efficient and effective outcomes, on leadership, and on introducing protection for state servants from liability for civil proceedings. The legislation also usefully clarifies some matters around the employment of chief executives and gives the State Services Commissioner flexibility in deploying them. The introduction of the notion of stewardship into the functions of the State Services Commissioner is also welcome as it signals that chief executives should have a strong focus on the longer-term well-being of their agency and the services it provides, as well as a system-wide view.

However, once-in-a-generation transformational change, it is not. The legislation has missed an opportunity for a more comprehensive review of the management of the state sector to make it fit for the 21st century.

As Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who was part of the Fourth Labour Government which introduced the State Sector Act observed, passing a law does not in itself improve public management.

If the intention of the Better Public Services programme and the legislative reform is to support more closely aligned agencies, working across agencies, talent development and system leadership, a more fundamental culture change must sit behind it.

Current human resource systems contribute to low trust workplaces and lower engagement levels. If we are to design public services for the 21st century then we need to move on from outdated management practices and recognise the importance of creating workplaces that are based on high trust, and foster high engagement and innovative thinking at every level of an organisation. …

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