Does any child say when I grow up I want to be a bureaucrat?
Probably not for bureaucrat is more often than not regarded negatively as these answers to the question how many bureaucrats does it take to change a lightbulb show:
* Two. One to assure everyone that everything possible is being done while the other screws the bulb into the a tap.
* Two; one to change it and one to carry out a risk assessment.
* 100. One to change the bulb and 99 to write the environmental impact report.
* Two. One to screw it in and one to screw it up.
A more serious question requiring a serious answer, is how many bureaucrats does it take to deliver on a Budget?
An additional 3,423 full-time staff and contractors are required to fulfil commitments the Government made in this year’s Budget, released on May 19.
The Treasury estimates this will see the public service workforce grow by 6 per cent.
This is more than the average annual growth rate of 4.1 per cent over the past decade, and 4.6 per cent over the past six years.
If Government ministers had all their Budget bids fulfilled, an extra 7,887 staff would’ve needed to have been hired.
The Treasury, in a report presented to Government on February 4, said demand for staff was so high because “significant reform programmes and new functions being established have created public service workloads that exceed business as usual delivery for many agencies”. . . .
That is expensive for taxpayers’ and is competing with the private sector that pays the taxes.
However, the Treasury, in a February 25 briefing, warned hiring 3,423 staff when the labour market is as tight as it is, will still create competition, which is “likely to contribute to wage inflationary pressures”, including higher consultancy costs.
However, the Treasury, in a February 25 briefing, warned hiring 3,423 staff when the labour market is as tight as it is, will still create competition, which is “likely to contribute to wage inflationary pressures”, including higher consultancy costs. . .
The public service had already grown exponentially since 2017 and this is yet another example of the government fueling inflation, and reinforces the high cost of its centralisation agenda.
National Finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis supported the Treasury’s suggestion to have a “workforce constraint” but said it should only be for “back office” roles, including policy, human resources and communications staff.
“There is a widespread view that the Government’s insatiable appetite for hiring new officials has added to current worker shortages, making it hard for many businesses and community organisations to retain and recruit staff as they’re forced to compete with a taxpayer-funded Government recruitment drive,” Willis said.
“The danger here is that the Government is so busy hiring staff for its own pet projects that businesses miss out.”
Ballooning staff numbers aren’t just in Ministries, Michael Reddell has noticed an expanding empire at the Reserve bank:
. . . But what really caught my eye was the “Growth of RBNZ” request/answers, where the requester had asked for breakdowns of staff numbers over the last 10 years. They didn’t really need to go back that far – all the 200 FTE growth in staff numbers has occurred since Orr took office (up from 255 then to 454 on 30 June 2022) but it was interesting nonetheless. One gets a very clear sense of the bloat. Here for example
That’s a very steep increase and more concerning is that many of the new employees are in communications.
The Bank’s functions haven’t changed but – like too many public agencies – the number of “communications” staff has increased hugely
An OIA I’d lodged a couple of years ago (and written about here) gives a bit more background on that function (although numbers have grown more since).
We know there has been senior management bloat – a whole new lawyer of second tier appointees (Assistant Governors) most of whom seem to have little subject expertise to offer)
On the other hand, there are the Bank’s core economics functions. Until very recently, monetary policy was by statute the primary function of the Bank. That has changed (reasonably enough) but it is still a key core function. But here are staff numbers in the Economics Department
. . . Orr has long had something of a reputation as an empire-builder, and in his first four years at the Bank that seems to have been amply warranted again. This is scarce taxpayers’ money and yet Orr (facilitated by the Minister and the Board) flings it round with gay abandon……without even the consolation of better quality research, analysis, policy design, let alone policy outcomes. But it has been a windfall for HR people and former journalists.
Nicola Willis has also noticed the expanding empire:
Despite a huge increase in the Reserve Bank budget and runaway inflation, the Bank has massively increased its central office communications functions while failing to bolster its core economics function, says National’s Finance Spokesperson Nicola Willis.
“Data released to National under the Official Information Act shows worrying trends in where the Reserve Bank is focusing its money and resources.
“Total staff numbers at the Bank have exploded from 255 in June 2018 to 454 in June 2022.
“Despite this hiring spree, the core economics function of the Bank is receiving less money this year than it did in 2013.
“The number of economics staff employed by the bank is now lower as a proportion of total staff than at any time on record. In 2013, 34 economic staff were employed by the Bank, whereas today that number is 32.
“The Reserve Bank has instead more than tripled the number of communications staff, up from six in 2013 to 20 today. Similarly, the number of staff in the HR team has leapt from five in 2017 to 24 today, while staff in the Governor’s office has increased from six in 2017 to 21 today.
This is a bit like a hospital cutting medical staff or a school reducing the number of teachers and replacing them with HR and PR people.
“New Zealanders are suffering from the double whammy of rapidly rising prices and interest rates climbing more steeply than at any time in 30 years. These issues should be the Reserve Bank’s focus. I’ll bet taxpayers would prefer their money being spent on economics advice rather than spin and corporate PR.
“These staff numbers raise serious questions about the Reserve Bank’s priorities in the midst of a cost of living crisis. New Zealanders have a right to expect the Reserve Bank will be focusing its resources on the best advice possible for getting inflation under control.
“National repeats our call for an independent public inquiry into decisions made by the Bank since March 2020.
“Inflation has exceeded the Bank’s target for more than a year, and by the Bank’s admission won’t be under control until at least March 2024. There must be an examination of how we got here and accountability for any failures.”
Perhaps it’s time to be asking how many communications staff does it take to explain why the Reserve Bank has missed its inflation target so badly? and how expensive will it be to correct that?
Bureaucrats are a necessary, and useful, part of good government but the steep increase in their number, especially in communication roles, and such poor delivery on government policies in so many areas is proof that, just like so much of this government’s spending, more isn’t always better.