Plans to gut the public service challenged

February 1, 2024
5 mins read
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An impassioned open letter to the people of Aotearoa from an anonymous civil servant with some troubling information.

I work in the public sector. I am not a drone. I am married, with kids, a home, and pets. With bills, extended family, Christmas and birthdays, school fees and a car to run, just like you, inflation and the cost of living crisis hit me hard. I make just below the median salary for New Zealand. I pay taxes, and I commute. I pay for petrol. In short, I’m the same as you.

My job is intensively stressful and active. I do not see anyone in mine or similar groups and divisions whose roles do not require the same high demand on focus, time, and efficiency. Nobody is surplus to requirements.

Could it be because of a population increase of over 500,000 in the last five years that the public sector also needed to increase its staffing nationwide accordingly?

We’re being told by the new government to expect between 8000 and 15,000 of us to lose our jobs. One of the Coalition partners says this is because we’re not all needed. And yet the advisory teams telling them the ramifications of their ideological idiocy aren’t telling them the same thing. What, then, does our Prime Minister proudly state to the media? “We don’t listen to them because we want to do this now.”

In short, the government is ignoring the very people qualified to make them aware of the ramifications of their actions. And here’s the kicker: They’re proud of this.

 


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Why do they want to do this? With a straight face, they say this is to help them pay for tax bracket amendments that will provide an actual back-pocket difference to less than 1% of the taxpaying population of New Zealanders. In other words, 99% of us will barely benefit at all.

Let’s give a very liberal estimate of the number this will benefit: around 12,000 people (based on the assumption that the 3000 households quoted and accepted by the National Party are accurate) out of a population of 5 million. Let’s look at their intended payment methods. The initial one – cutting the public sector by at least two-thirds of that 12,000 – leaves a very liberal 4000 individuals benefitting from the tax cuts. What about the remaining 5,105,702 kiwis who will simply have to make do?

So, what will the economic knock-on effect of these redundancies be for the rest of New Zealand? People commute into Wellington from as far away as Levin and Masterton. KiwiRail and Tranz Metro will see a drop in profit. Snapper will see a decline in usage. The bus companies? Coffee shops/cafes? Dry cleaners? Central city supermarkets? What about the local economies of satellite towns like Paraparaumu and Masterton and the smaller ones like Pukerua Bay or Featherston? Cost cutting in the private sector will quickly follow from the removal of up to 25% of the workforce of the largest employer in the lower North Island. Add to this the sizeable public sector presence in other main metro centres, and things start to look more than a little dire for NZ’s regional economies. Here’s a quick sample of some of the impacts you can expect:

  • The immediate impact of the loss of 15,000 full-time jobs would lead to increased unemployment and a subsequent decrease in consumer spending. The knock on effects of this are likely to be many for local businesses throughout NZ.
  • The cuts would also affect the quality of public services. The Government will need to find ways to maintain the services while reducing spending. Historically, this has created a downward spiral that saw public sector costs increase.
  • One way of reducing public sector costs would see the government outsourcing functions, such as administrative support, call centre operations, and security services. This could lead to increased spending on consultants and contractors, offsetting any savings from the original job cuts. Ask anyone who was around when John Key’s Government tried this.
  • The Government and their supporters would of course argue that cutting the public sector expenditure could stimulate economic growth by freeing up resources for private sector investment and entrepreneurship. In a perfect world maybe, but things can and will go wrong as an inexperienced private sector tries to pick up the public sector’s workload – Does anyone remember Novopay?
  • New Zealanders currently have a high level of trust in their public service. Cutting jobs could negatively impact the efficiency and reliability of the public sector, damaging the trust of Kiwis, and leading to a decrease in public support for the government.
  • The biggest victim, however, appears to be Wellington’s economy: Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has expressed opposition to the cuts, as public servants contribute to a “strong, stable” Wellington economy. The impact of the cuts on the city’s economy could be significant for the capital as it faces up to a $30 billion water infrastructure repair bill.

Worse still, public sector employees are not just numbers on a balance sheet. They have irreplaceable historical knowledge, contacts and networks, an encyclopaedic understanding of legislation and procedures. All this will be wiped away forever by an ideological philosophy that has no factual basis to prove that the removal of services during a period of economic turmoil paired with significant population growth, actually works. There is no evidence that shows the public sector reducing staff numbers generates higher service levels and returns on the taxpayer’s investment. In fact, common sense says to expect the exact opposite.

Would you feel more comfortable with services provided with public benefit as primary goal, or shareholder profit? Especially when that profit is likely to be whipped out of New Zealand tax-free to fatten the trust funds of offshore investors. An upside of this is that that the estimated 4000 beneficiaries of the tax cuts could soon see their gains whittled away to negatives in short order.

Adding fuel to an already raging bonfire, the coalition repealed Smoke-Free Laws to help pay for these unaffordable tax cuts. Again, ignoring economic advice from experts. What had been a net positive in health benefits both fiscally and in terms of the number of lives saved has been turned into a severe incoming financial burden on the health sector and an estimated further loss of 8000 lives. Our children will not know what it is to be nicotine-free. Incidentally, did any of you catch the clause about removing the regulation on the limit of nicotine allowed in Vapes? No? Most sane and rational countries are looking at regulating vapes – with good reason.

All this – and more – has come from an authoritarian coalition whose ideologies are dividing and hurting the very people and the economy that they were supposedly “getting back on track”. This insistence on blindly following flawed ideologies has seen them dismissing advice and ramifications and pushing through legislation that will hurt many more people than it will help. And clearly for the benefit of small numbers of rich listers as a growing number of Kiwis suffer.

 

1 Comment

  1. You lost me at “letter to the people of Aotearoa” – I live in New Zealand. Always have, always will.

    Good luck with the future, but NZ has far too many bureaucrats and they make everything inefficient. Good to see the government taking the initiative, now over to the local councils to do exactly the same.

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