Sunday, June 16, 2013

Crisis Management Governance Failing


Listening to Tim Groser on Q+A this morning just emphasised how little forward planning this Government does. Despite being very open about the fact that we probably lack diplomatic capacity and admitting we need more mandarin speakers when dealing with China, it does make me wonder why more hasn't been done to rectify this before now. Whether it be Novopay or the certification blunder that held up our meat shipments, it was poorly performing bureaucracy that caused the problems. While the Government is quick to blame officials and claim that in retrospect things could be done differently, this doesn't absolve it from responsibility.

Since 2008 the National led Government has not focused on building capacity and performance in the state sector, but saving money. It has been apparent in all ministries and state departments that  reductions in funding have been based on arbitrary decisions rather than ones that have been strategically managed or based on performance reviews and future needs. The fact that many sacked staff have had to be re-employed as expensive consultants to cover skill deficits supports this view. Arbitrary cost cutting often results in unintended consequences that then have negative economic impacts.

This Government also seems to think that improving the capacity of our state services is just about telling people to work harder and getting tougher on those who don't perform. Many state service CEOs have been employed to manage cost efficiencies rather than lifting performance and this was especially true for ACC chief, Ralph Stewart, who did exactly as he was asked to do in reducing expenditure but had to resign because of the human consequences. Lesley Longstone's short stint as the Secretary of Education came to an abrupt end because she was employed to implement private models of education but had no understanding of our public system.

If one wants to lift performance of a department or sector there has to be an understanding of what needs to be done and that there are appropriate levels of skilled staff to do the work. It is up to Government Ministers to ensure that they are up to speed with their portfolios and ensure they have the necessary information on which to base decisions. They are also charged with employing the right people into leadership roles. It is not just Lesley Longstone or Ralph Stewart's fault that things turned to custard under their leadership, much of the blame should rest with the Government that employed them in the first place. The Government has seriously misjudged what was really important for the effective management of ACC and Education. In both cases an ideological stance had influenced the appointments rather than an informed approach based on readily available evidence.

Too many decisions are now reactionary ones resulting from a crisis and a little bit of prior planning and prioritised investment would have avoided costly emergency measures. We see the human consequences of an under-skilled and poorly staffed  EQC, we are seeing a $24 million blowout in costs related to Novopay, we are having a housing crisis that needs attention and we are urgently having to feed thousands of children arriving to school hungry. In each case the crisis could have been predicted and much of it averted if we had acted faster and were properly prepared. The biggest of all crises confronting us is climate change and again delaying action will only cost us dearly in the future.


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