Job cuts looming for public servants

By Simon Collins

Public servants are facing cuts across a range of state departments as the new National Government begins to implement its promise to "cap" the bureaucracy.

State Services Minister Tony Ryall yesterday denied Opposition claims that it had a target of cutting the number of public sector jobs by 10 per cent or any other number.

But ministers and agencies confirmed yesterday that:

The Ministry of Social Development aims to cut its staff of 9500 by 5 per cent (475) over the next four years by automating some processes and allowing people to apply for some benefits online.

The Tertiary Education Commission plans to tell staff next week about a "change proposal" which is expected to affect a major chunk of its 290 employees.

The Ministry for the Environment is reviewing its structure to meet the new Government's priorities.

The Conservation Department is considering the abolition of its East Coast/Hawkes Bay conservancy, with 40 employees, shifting the East Coast into the Bay of Plenty conservancy and Hawkes Bay into Wellington.

The National Library plans to cut 32 jobs in a restructuring, but says 28 new positions will be created.

Mr Ryall told Parliament that, although there was no target staff reduction, "the number of back-office public servants is out of proportion".

"This Government is determined that the focus will go on improving front-line services," he said.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said her ministry had already shifted more than 60 staff from other duties "on to the front line" since the election in November.

The ministry told a parliamentary committee last year that it had cut the number of front-line case managers by 450 when unemployment was declining in 2007-08. Its briefing to Ms Bennett in November said there were then 1950 case managers.

The briefing paper also outlined the plan to cut overall staff numbers by 5 per cent over the next four years through upgraded computer systems.

However, the paper noted these plans "rely on the demand for our services remaining within current forecasts".

Since then, unemployment has risen to 4.6 per cent and economists expect it to rise to between 6.4 and 7.2 per cent by the end of this year.

Ms Bennett said the ministry did not need extra staff to handle the increased work at this stage.

A Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) spokeswoman said chief executive Dr Roy Sharp told staff last week that he would put a "change proposal" to them, tentatively on February 25.

The National Party's election policy promised to "clarify the role of the TEC, trim its bureaucracy and streamline its functions".

Environment Ministry chief executive Paul Reynolds said the ministry was reviewing its structure "to ensure the ministry can best meet the Government's priority work programmes such as waste minimisation and Resource Management Act reform and to ensure the ministry can effectively lead environmental policy formulation".

- NZ Herald

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