Prime Minister-elect John Key says his incoming government will not slash the number of public servants despite a new survey showing there are 9000 more than National's proposed cap.
The State Services Commission's Human Resource Capability Survey, released today, shows public servant numbers increased by 3.6 per cent in the year to June 30, 2008 - the smallest rise in the past eight years.
But the survey put the total number of public servants at 45,934 - 9000 more than the level at which National has promised to cap the public service.
Mr Key campaigned on a platform of capping bureaucrat numbers, the party saying growth in staff numbers in back office areas like policy advice was out of control.
His government-in-waiting also faces a bleak set of books with reduced economic growth as a result of the global downturn likely to send the government accounts spiralling further into the red.
But today he said the differential between the two numbers did not mean National would embark on a slash and burn exercise to reach the lower figure.
National had taken its 36,000 figure from a different measure - the quarterly employment survey and it was likely the two surveys categorised jobs differently.
He believed the figure National used did not include some workers delivering front-line services.
Mr Key said the point of National's policy was to cap the number of public servants - whatever that was - at its current level.
"Whatever the starting point is, it's an apples for apples comparison," he told reporters.
"The point is it's not rising from the starting point."
A survey finding that 200 public servants were in "unknown" occupation categories underscored why National's intended "line-by-line" review of spending was necessary, he said.
State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie today said most of the past year's growth was in front-line jobs.
That included staff for the new Spring Hill and Otago Regional Prisons, to administer KiwiSaver and to fill front-line immigration positions due to increased volumes.
He said public sector growth between 2003 and 2008 was roughly in proportion to private sector growth.
The survey found the median public servant salary was $51,000, while the average was $59,532 - about 30 per cent higher than the average wage. The average salary rose by 5.1 per cent in the past year.
The percentage of Maori public servants declined slightly over the year from 16.8 to 16.7 per cent.
Public Service Association (PSA) national secretary Brenda Pilott said the survey showed 13 of 36 departments had either shrunk or stayed the same in the past year.
The numbers showed the public service was exercising restraint.
She said the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had consistently ranked New Zealand's public service as below average size among developed countries.
Ms Pilott said she was encouraged by a meeting between union leaders and Mr Key yesterday and the PSA would continue to work with him to avoid deep job cuts.