Plans to cut public service don’t add up

Robert (not his real name) is one of those so-called back office public service workers National and ACT don’t have much time for because he’s not in the frontline. These are his words.

I work in communications, telling stories about our special places that New Zealanders love to visit. Comms is important because we let Kiwis and our international visitors know how to be safe when they are out and about in our national parks and conservation areas. And if we weren’t there telling those messages, and making sure they are delivered in the right way to the right people at the right time there could be some serious safety issues. People could get hurt.

Communications is a vital public service, yet you have heard Christopher Luxon attack this profession often enough. Excellent communications helped us all safeguard our health during the pandemic. The value of comms for Kiwis goes across the public service.

But National has crafted a deceptive narrative about waste in the public sector – a convenient and misguided bumper sticker slogan centred on this government having poured money into the back office at the expense of the frontline.

You hear National say often enough it will find savings and shift resources from the back office to the frontline without impacting the frontline. It’s just not that simple. The back office supports the frontline. All public service workers make a valuable contribution to the quality public services New Zealanders need.

Mr Luxon is saying today exactly what John Key said in Opposition in 2008 about the size of the public service.

“Bloated” they both said. The facts say otherwise. Our public service is about the same size on a per capita basis as the UK and Australia. It’s been increasing in line with population growth since 2017. It’s trusted and efficient according to international measures.

Now, should National be able to form a government after the election, it says it’s coming after the back office with billions of dollars of cuts to help pay for tax cuts. It wants some $600 million of savings by Christmas. That means jobs and services are at risk.

Vital jobs – think of those doing the hard work on tackling complex policies like climate change.

Sarah (not her real name) is a policy advisor at the Ministry for the Environment. A job she loves.

People are in public services because they care, we want to make this country better for all, policy presents all the options and it’s a way to make positive change.

She’s figuring out how we adapt to climate related storms and reduce our harmful emissions.

It’s thinking about what people’s homes and environment will look like in years to come and keep many from being under water. We must remember that these are political issues, and that not everyone will agree on them. But regardless of that we make sure that policies developed are workable and can be put in place.

And it’s not just the so-called back office – National would not be able to make the sizable cuts it’s looking for without downsizing frontline services. The cuts could go deeper if National can’t raise revenue from its new Foreign Buyer Tax and online gambling tax as many experts predict.

Think of someone like Rebecca (not her real name) who is a case worker at the Ministry of Social Development, supporting our most vulnerable people. It’s a job with a huge payoff for their clients and our community.

Sitting in front of a client who you’ve seen at their lowest of low, and then walking with them in that small part of their lives, and seeing the difference for them, they’ve regained their mana, and they’ve done that through our work. I’m just proud to be a case manager.

The irony of all this is that National in government would want to do a whole sweep of reforms that require a well-resourced public service, work like improving child immunisation rates – comms folk are vital there to talk to our many ethnic groups, and toughening up sentencing laws to lock up more people – yet the courts are also targeted by National’s razor gang despite being already under the pump.

So, in a nutshell, the public sector policies of National and ACT don’t add up. There’s also no economic crisis to justify it – sure taxpayers should get value for money from the investment in the services they need. But our economy has got through Covid, there is no recession, inflation is falling, unemployment remains low, and our international credit rating is holding up.

Plus, our challenges with an aging population, climate change, the increasing cost and complexity of health care to name a few, are growing. That needs a strong public service.

New Zealanders would pay a high price for the scale of cuts demanded by National and ACT – sacrificing services we need today, and work to safeguard our futures tomorrow. Can we afford it as a country? We don’t believe so.

Kerry Davies – National Secretary, Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi

/Public Release. View in full here.