Time to Return to Dynamic Government Policies

Covid has changed our world forever, and this is becoming more apparent every day—whether it's the weather, politics, or the growth of extremists. Our pre-Covid world is now a thing of the past and will never return. In fact, it is rapidly fading into a figment of our imagination.

How did this happen? What have been the policies and influences from the government during this catastrophic change? For our continued prosperity, we rely on the government for stability and hope for the future. At the core of the government is the public/civil service, which has also undergone significant change. This change started even before Covid, with the rise of consultants coinciding with the decline of the public/civil service's ability to provide politicians with the policies and strategies necessary for enduring prosperity. This shift has resulted in the devolution of leadership and future-reaching policies to consultants, which has proven ineffective. The reason behind this
ineffectiveness is that consultants have different drivers and goals compared to traditional public/civil servants.

In 2022, the New Zealand government spent $1.25 billion on consultants, while the public service saw an increase of 14,000 new employees in the last five years. However, there is a concerning trend of talented individuals being drawn to consultancy due to the absence of a pay freeze (unlike in the case of NZ public servants) and the cutting-edge work opportunities it offers. Moreover, there is a growing tendency to call in consultants not only for policy development but also for policy implementation, when the government's implementation falters and falls behind. Unfortunately, it is challenging to find policies that have been effectively implemented in recent years. To be fair, the
extraordinary circumstances imposed by Covid have played a significant role in this. Nevertheless, as a country, we must now pull ourselves out of the Covid era and effectively address the issues facing New Zealand.

To drive New Zealand forward, we need innovative and dynamic policies that are effectively delivered. The needs of the public must be met. The current reliance on consultants for analysis, reports, and constant public service restructures need to be set aside. In simple terms, public services must be efficiently delivered by implementing pragmatic and achievable policies. In the mid-20th century, the government was the primary actor, developing and delivering aspirational policies, as well as building infrastructure. However, over time, the government has become more managerial and risk-averse, with an expanded bureaucracy focused on details and regulations. Creation and innovation have increasingly become the domain of consultants. It is now time to return to the delivery of dynamic government policies and their effective implementation.

To achieve this, the public service needs to be revitalized and given a mandate from politicians to be innovative and creative. The reliance on consultants should be reduced and aligned to support the creation and delivery of the public service. The inclination towards excessive detail and regulation must be considered in the context of what the public needs. Bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake should be replaced by actively engaging with the public to enable a more prosperous New Zealand. 

In summary, we need to go back to the public service of the mid-20th century when the government successfully met the needs of the public. It is time to return to dynamic government policies, and the way to achieve that is through a re-invigorated public service mandated by politicians to not only develop creative and innovative policies but also to fully and effectively implement them.

Mike Chapman,
Chair New Zealand Ethical Employers Inc