By Chris Hipkins
Since 2008 the National government has been promising New Zealanders a better public service. It assured us that plans to overhaul it were not about slashing expenditure but about efficiency. Job numbers were being ‘capped’, not cut. Four years on, we can see that those promises amounted to little more than hollow sloganeering.
Despite National’s promise to move resources ‘from the back office to the front line’ we’ve seen local frontline public services scaled back or closed, while the never-ending list of government 0800 numbers continues to grow.
Take Housing New Zealand for example. The Government has closed the doors of local branches and directed people to an 0800 number where they can wait over an hour just to have their call answered.
The Inland Revenue Department is even worse. It’s spent over $30 million making people redundant over the past four years, and its call centre stats show that has clearly had an impact on the services staff can provide. At IRD people can wait up to two and a half hours to have their calls answered. Last year over a million callers gave up waiting and hung up. Another quarter of a million gave up when their call was finally answered only to be placed ‘on hold’.
That kind of inefficiency on the part of such a critical central government agency will have a flow-on effect across the economy. Kiwis take their tax responsibilities very seriously, and rightly so. The penalties for not complying with the law when it comes to tax can be really serious, but people also genuinely want to do the right thing. So how frustrating for them to have to wait for hours on end trying to talk to someone just to make sure they’re meeting their obligations.
Work and Income call centre statistics aren’t that much better either. Last year some poor soul spent one hour and 10 minutes waiting for their call to the government “job line” to be answered. 6,500 people gave up trying to get through. No doubt Paula Bennett will try to argue that they’re lazy and unwilling to work when actually what they weren’t willing to do was sit around for hours waiting for the government to answer the phone.
One of the reasons National’s public sector restructuring isn’t producing the results it promised Kiwis is that it has no coherent plan that it is working towards.
Take the creation two years ago of the Ministry of Science and Innovation. No sooner had that agency been created, and money spent on swish branding and marketing, then Steven Joyce came along and decided to pull it to pieces again and merge it into his new mega ministry.
There is no doubt in my mind that New Zealanders deserve better public services that are focused on delivering results. Sadly, they’re not getting them under National.
Chris Hipkins is the Labour Party’s State Sector Spokesperson