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Key's 'super' ministry fails to impress critics

Published: 3:54PM Thursday March 15, 2012 Source: ONE News

The Government's state sector shake-up has been labelled "another to-do list" which poses a risk to special agencies and the workforce.

Prime Minister John Key outlined plans this morning to make the public service more efficient over the next three to five years by achieving 10 specific goals .

He said the new 'super' ministry will be called the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

The new ministry will bring together staff from the Ministry of Economic Development, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Department of Building and Housing.

Around 3200 people are currently employed by the four departments but mergers will likely see staff go.

"There probably will be some redundancies as a result of that, but that's not the driving force," Key said.

But opposition parties and workforce representatives quickly responded to Key's plan with a barrage of concerns and criticisms.

All Key has given the country is another list, Labour leader David Shearer said.

"After three-and-a-half years New Zealanders should expect John Key to be delivering some results, yet today he is just setting targets," said Shearer.

"Rather than another 'to-do' list I want to see a 'done' list."

The only proposals Key has given today are more cuts and bureaucratic shuffling, he said.

"More lists and more bullet pointed plans are simply not going to grow the New Zealand economy, create high value jobs and help Kiwis get ahead."

Specialist functions at risk

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) believes vital Labour Department functions could be lost by merging it into a 'super' ministry.

Secretary Peter Conway said specialist functions carried out by affected agencies may be lost.

"Affected departments manage complex and often contentious legislation which is highly technical and specialised," Conway said.

He said the Department of Labour currently provides roles and functions around issues such as work safety, holidays, parental leave and minimum wages.

Conway criticised the creation of a new ministry tasked with providing a single, dedicated 'business-facing' focus.

"The Government is already struggling to adequately carry out the health and safety function because of the inadequate number of health and safety inspectors - as the Pike River mine tragedy clearly shows.

"Bringing a single business-facing lens to issues like health and safety may marginalise and compromise the focus that should be on workers, with their employers, and their health and safety at work," Conway said.

"Gutting state sector" not the way

The Green Party also hit out at Key's announcement, saying gutting the state sector was no way to get the economy moving.

Sacking public servants will not result in less crime or better educational outcomes for New Zealand, co-leader Metiria Turei said.

"Merging ministries and relocating public servants will not solve New Zealand's wider social and economic problems," Turei said.

"It's bizarre that John Key considers sacking core public servants will lead to an economic nirvana with better educational outcomes and a lower crime rate."

Turei accused the Government of being "more concerned with call centres" than major issues like housing, the environment and a sound economy for all New Zealanders.

"Disruptive and demoralising"

If John Key's "revolution" simply involves more job cuts and restructures, it could do more harm than good, said the Public Service Association (PSA).

ONE News at 6 heard from PSA management that they are "getting very negative and angry responses" from its members.

"They're very concerned, particularly in the four departments that may be merged that the work hasn't really been done to establish whether this department is going to make sense as a single department," said national secretary Brenda Pilott.
A major restructure could be "disruptive and demoralising" to staff involved, who need certainty if they are to be innovative, Pilott said.

"The Prime Minister promised that any mergers would need to meet a high hurdle. It's questionable whether this new ministry of business, innovation and employment meets that," she said.

Education and skills

The Government must make sure that education and skills are not "left out of the mix", the Industry Training Federation (ITF) warned.

Chief executive Mark Oldershaw said the a new 'super' ministry should not disregard the role education and skills play in business, innovation and employment.

"It is skills that drive productivity," he said.

"While I am heartened by the Government's expectation for a more skilled workforce, it seems to be a wasted opportunity that as it creates a Ministry that focuses on business, innovation, and employment, it has left education and skills out of the mix."

Business sector welcomes new Ministry

BusinessNZ said it made "good sense" to pool and co-ordinate services and policy relevant to business within a single ministry.

"Reducing current levels of duplication will be appreciated by many enterprises," said chief executive Phil O'Reilly.

"A single, dedicated business-facing government department, focused on delivering results, will be a great improvement on the current situation."

But O'Reilly warned that the Government will need to monitor how the new merged ministry operates to make sure changes are implemented successfully.