The squeals of pain from the Wellington bureaucracy suggest otherwise, but National's restructuring has so far been less slash and burn and more nip and tuck.

It seems more far-reaching surgery is pending, however: pending National winning the November election, that is.

You can probably add radical state sector reform to the other items in an increasingly bulging second-term agenda, including asset sales and the overhaul of the welfare system.

A Cabinet paper giving background to yesterday's announcement, written under the names of Finance Minister Bill English and State Services Minister Tony Ryall, talks of not only retaining the "momentum" for reform, but also "stepping up a gear".

The paper also expresses a desire for "more contestability" - code for contracting out public services.

With the exception of the amalgamation of the Education Review Office and the NZQA, the changes announced yesterday are too minor to induce much pre-election angst that budget cuts equal cuts to front-line services.

No one will be too exercised by the abolition of the Maritime Appeal Authority or the transfer of the Charities Commission's functions to the Internal Affairs Department.

And the minor nature of the changes makes it difficult for opponents to ascribe a "less government" ideological motive to National's plan for a leaner, more cost-efficient public service.

English insists that change is necessary to get the maximum value from each taxpayer-provided dollar, more so when there are fewer dollars to go around.

The Cabinet paper argues that even if you ignore such "fiscal imperatives", there is still "clutter, duplication and waste" in the system preventing New Zealanders getting the kind of services they want. Adding the fiscal pressures that lie ahead "simply sharpens" the case for change now.

For English and company, ideology can safely hide behind pragmatism in this case.

However, the money that will be freed up by the changes announced yesterday will be chickenfeed in meeting English's self-imposed target of $1 billion in savings from the public sector over four years.

Post-election, National will argue it has no choice but to slice a lot deeper. It will mean more mergers and more job losses, including in the larger ministries and departments.

English yesterday repeatedly stressed change was necessary in the state sector. If National wins in November, change is going to be a constant, if not always welcome, companion for public servants for the foreseeable future.