COMMENT:

Sir Bill English's skills are in demand by the Trump Administration as it moves to leverage US Federal data as a strategic asset to grow the economy.

The former National Prime Minister and Finance Minister was treading the plushly-carpeted corridors at the White House last week, taking American officials through the ground-breaking integrated government data system he spearheaded in New Zealand.

"I just spent a week in the States last week, including the West Wing, which looks just like it does on TV, talking about this integrated data," he told a finance dinner on Wednesday.

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The Federal Data Strategy is one of the initiatives that New Zealand-born Christopher Liddell helped to scope in his initial appointment as an assistant to the President.

Liddell is now a deputy chief of staff to Trump and is heavily engaged in marshalling policy across the board.

English says because New Zealand is a "cohesive, single jurisdiction", it is possible to get a comprehensive integrated data system "which is pretty powerful" in place relatively quickly.

Obviously Statistics NZ has comprehensive data posted on its website.

But it is how that data is mined together with other data from within government agencies to provide meaningful insights which is key.

It enables a government to make strategic policy moves which is the determinant factor.
English gives as an example the risk factors associated with the thousands of kids who have a dad in prison. "The cohort born in 1978, every second Māori and Polynesian male born in that year, has a criminal conviction.

"It's unbelievable," he says. "That is right at the core of your social chaos that generates so much, fiscal costs, but more importantly, so much misery."

The Federal Data Strategy's website acknowledges straight up that the use of data is transforming the world.

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It says Federal Government data has a unique place in society and maintaining trust in that data is pivotal to a democratic process.

A robust, integrated approach to using data to deliver on mission, serve customers, and steward resources while respecting privacy and confidentiality.

The project is at the stage of developing principles. An action plan will be rolled out in 2019.

Life after politics for the newly-minted businessman covers the spectrum from a directorship on a blue chip Australian company to his "start-up".

English's laconic style was to the fore at the annual CFA dinner this week.

The Government limos are gone. "When I hopped in the left-hand side of the car nothing happened ... worse thing about leaving for holidays is having to find a car park. Filling out departure forms provided a new challenge, it took me weeks to decide what my occupation was."

In fact, English is building his governance book and is in strong demand as a director.
Perth-based Wesfarmers, which owns Bunnings and Kmart in New Zealand, has already snapped him up.

"It's the opposite of public policy where they make money because they actually run real businesses well."

Gossip among bankers at the Infinz annual conference the day later was that the National Australia Bank also had him in its sights. At the other end of the spectrum he is chair of Mount Cook Alpine Salmon.

For long-term politicians thinking about leaving Parliament, English's advice is "don't go on holiday".

He's seen dozens of politicians fail in their transition to normal life. "I got up Monday morning. I've got these six cash-hungry kids. I've got money in my bank account. I'm willing to do anything. At all. And so I got started the next day."

He maintains he left Parliament at the right time. "Maybe if I had left three months earlier we could have won the election ... that's what John Key told me. I said to him the other day when I saw him, 'You are almost as good as you say you were'."

His firm Bill English and Co is not quite yet a family affair.

But he indicates that it is not simply the White House which is interested in the pioneering work that was generated on his watch.

Other governments have also been in touch, their interest sparked by a unique model.
Not simply the integrated data but also the application of investment concepts to social policy.

Another example from the bottom 1 per cent in New Zealand is the a group of kids who are "million-dollar babies".

That's the amount of public services in dollar terms they will soak up. He would like the coalition Government to further develop the techniques pioneered on his watch, pointing to the fact that about 80 per cent of sole parents who are under 20 come from a benefit household.

Targeted policies, including help to get them back into school and sharing houses, have helped reduce the number from 4600 to 2500.

At the core of the English approach is getting the Government to organise around its customers, or clients rather than suppliers, instead of applying a universal approach.

"You can't change the ageing population but you can changes lives. When you see a million-dollar baby, well you put that in front of anybody and they want do something about it."