Spin-doctor jobs on the line as Govt orders cuts

By Patrick Gower

The jobs of more than 300 public service "spin doctors" are up for review after a Government-ordered purge on public relations advisers.

The National Government yesterday put a "cap" on the public service bureaucracy, which now cannot exceed 38,859 jobs.

But the Public Services Association said it already knew of almost 750 jobs lost, raising questions about the relevance of a cap if the number of jobs was decreasing.

The Government said 321 communications or public relations advisers were employed in government departments.

State Services Minister Tony Ryall has told all departmental chief executives to reduce the number of public relations staff, although he has not given a target.

The chief executives will have to account for the removal of public relations staff in their performance reviews with the State Services Commissioner.

Figures made public last year showed government communications staff had doubled in five years, going from 238 in 2005 to 448 last year, although this figure covered more areas of government than those covered by National's cap.

The public service had fewer than 50 press officers in the 1980s.

National campaigned on the cap because it wanted to control the growth of the public service, which it said was symbolised by public relations staff.

Mr Ryall said Labour had let the public service get out of control, and it had grown 50 per cent over its nine years in power.

The new cap was "global", meaning some departments could gain staff as others lost them.

The overall number of jobs left could be below the cap as a result of the detailed spending reviews the departments were going through with their ministers.

It was not a "slash and burn exercise" and it was an achievement to stop the growth.

Mr Ryall said National's objective was to move more jobs to the frontline.

Labour state services spokesman Grant Robertson said it was difficult to take Mr Ryall's cuts to communications staff seriously when National had enormously increased the pay of its media staff, putting some on more than $110,000 a year.

Government careers information says a communications officer is paid an average of $52,500 a year, and a communications manager makes more than $100,000.

PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott said the cap was an optical illusion if cuts meant the level would sink below it.

"Jobs are being cut, not capped," she said.

Ms Pilott said the PSA's estimate of 753 job losses included 22 at the State Services Commission, 86 at the Ministry for the Environment, 76 at the Tertiary Education Commission, 50 at the NZ Transport Agency, 19 at the Qualifications Authority and 500 to be cut at the Ministry for Social Development over two years.

The cap covers public service departments and five crown entities - Housing NZ, the Qualifications Authority, the Transport Agency, Trade and Enterprise and the Tertiary Education Commission.

It does not include Work and Income or Child Youth and Family.

Mr Ryall said it was expected these would need more staff because of an increased need for their services in the recession.

Police, the defence force and the prison and probation services have also been left outside the cap.

The numbers:

1980s: fewer than 50 government PR workers

2005: 238

2008: 448

2009: 321*

*includes only those under new Government cap

- NZ Herald

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