Ask the Minister – Public Service Reforms

As the Government drafts a new act to transform the public service, Working Life asks State Services Minister Chris Hipkins how it will affect your working lives.

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State Services Minister Chris Hipkins

"People will still work in the departments or agencies they work in now. Over time they might see more alignment of the terms and conditions of similar jobs across the public service because at the moment we know there is variation." 

Minister Hipkins: They’ll find it easier to move between jobs. Now if you switch from a policy advisor job at the DIA to a policy advisor job at the MoE that’s an entirely new employment relationship, you lose your sick leave, you lose your annual leave . The idea is your employment relationship can be continuous across the public service so you will be appointed to the public service, even though you’ll be working in a particular department and answerable to a chief executive.

Over time we want to see more collaboration between agencies and to make that easier through basic things like co-locating teams together who are working on a particular topic.

Working Life: Will the changes enabling chief executives to bargain with occupation groups across departments affect existing employment conditions?

I don’t think you will see it going backwards. You want to bring people up to a similar level to other people who might be doing better than them for doing comparable work.

You talked about greater mobility across the public service – could this lead to a decline in specialist knowledge?

It is one of the things we talked about quite a lot at Cabinet. There is a need to bring people of a sector into government leadership of that sector. We would never want to stop that from happening, so yes we expect departments and agencies to be developing specialist expertise where they need that to do their jobs effectively.

Another aspect of the reforms is getting local and central government working more closely together. What would you say to those in local government who may perceive this as some kind of takeover by central government?

It’s about making sure central government is a better partner with local government. Feedback we’ve had from local government is that they can find central government quite frustrating. They deal with a variety of different agencies who don’t always connect up in their work with local government. So it’s certainly not about taking over.

What difference will physically locating more agencies together in the regions make?

That’s going to happen over time, but as leases expire bringing people under one roof where they can provide a more joined-up public service, I think there are real opportunities there.

How closely do you see agencies working with NGOs at a local level?

A lot of NGOs are already delivering frontline public services and the arrangements can be pretty variable. Some NGOs will be dealing with different government agencies to deliver services that are quite closely connected. If we can make that process more seamless for them, we can free them up to focus on delivering the service rather than having to work with different parts of government.

Once different sectors are working more closely together could it lead to job losses?

No, numbers in the public sector have been relatively stable. What the government is aiming to see is less reliance on casualised workers and more building of internal capability.

Are there any other messages you have for public servants right now?

Yes we see the importance of a robust politically neutral public service that provides free and frank advice to the government of the day.

The other point is that political neutrality doesn’t mean public servants stop being active citizens. I think the opposite is true. If you are a public servant then you have a responsibility to be civicly active.



While the Government’s plan for public service reform does not reverse many of the neo-liberal elements of the State Sector Act it still represents a significant step forward. The reforms will provide better mechanisms to enable cross agency work and help break down silos in government.

They will support greater local and regional co-ordination of public services, involving both central and local government, as well as iwi.

We particularly welcome recognition of the right of public servants to freedom of political expression in their private lives, and proposals to improve responsiveness to Māori.

There is the opportunity for the state to become an exemplar employer with the best possible employment practices and we could start by upgrading the good employer provisions of the Act. The SSC will have tools that should support greater consistency in terms and conditions across the Public Service. 

The Government has stopped short of making the SSC the employer of all staff in the Public Service, instead leaving chief executives as employers while stating that public servants will be ‘appointed to the Public Service’. It is still not clear what this means in practice and we want this to have real meaning for members. 

The Public Service will also include crown agents such as ACC and the DHBs. While the organisation of these agencies won’t change, the purpose and principles of the Public Service will apply, as will standards and guidance issued by the SSC and the affirmation of the rights and responsibilities of public servants.