Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Departments trim their PR teams

Positions down nearly 15 per cent on four years ago ... but Treasury and others defy trend.

Prime Minister John Key. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. File photo / Mark Mitchell

The number of public relations and communications staff in most government departments has dropped in the past four years - with some notable exceptions, including the Treasury - according to a Cabinet paper on public service staffing.

Overall, communications positions (full-time equivalents) have fallen by 14.34 per cent from December 2008 to last December, with some exceptions.

The number of Treasury communications positions increased from 2.9 to 4.9. The number of Statistics New Zealand staff increased heavily last year but that was in the build-up to the Census this year.

The Serious Fraud Office took on one position where it had none before, and the Department of Prime Minister and the Cabinet increased from one to two.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs has had the biggest reduction in communications positions, from 5.2 to 0.9, a drop of 82.69 per cent.

Treasury communications manager Anna Symmans said that after the global financial crisis Treasury took on a greater number of functions such as the deposit guarantee scheme and more responsibilities under the Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit "and we needed to grow with the business".

The National Party in Opposition made a big point of criticising the Labour-led government for a growth in communications staff.

Once it gained power in 2008, it became government policy to not only put a cap on core administration roles in the public service but to cut communications staff.

The total number of communications and public relations (full-time equivalents) was 275.2 at the end of last year.

Four years earlier it was 321.3 (2008); 269.4 (2009); 267.8 (2010); and 270 (2011).

The 275.2 total includes six extra staff at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, which had one communications position at the end of 2011, six by June last year and 12 by the end of last year.

The number of communications staff after the July merger that created the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is 36.2 which is 12.98 per cent lower than the 41.6 staff in the four separate departments in 2008 (Department of Building and Housing, Ministry of Economic Development, Department of Labour, and Ministry of Science and Innovation).

The State Services Commission, which prepared the Cabinet paper on public service staffing, led by example in reducing its staff from 5.7 in late 2008 to three last December.

The figures include jobs and vacancies so they indicate the number of positions, rather than jobs held.

Public service PR

Number of positions, full-time equivalents*


* Women's affairs 5.2 to 0.9
* Transport 9.4 to 3.5
* State Services Comm 5.7 to 3
* Environment 9.3 to 5
* Health 11.7 to 6.3
* Land Information 9.9 to 6
* Education 19.4 to 12.6
* Conservation 16.4 to 11


* Treasury 2.9 to 4.9
* Prime Minister and Cabinet 1 to 2
* Culture and Heritage 2.5 to 4

* December 2008 to December 2012

- NZ Herald

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