Former government statistician Len Cook this week warned
about the "serious cost" in human terms of further state sector
restructuring, without, in some cases, a fully convincing
rationale to support it.
Mr Cook, who is president of the New Zealand Institute of
Public Administration, outlined his concerns about
restructuring and adapting to meet the nation's future
challenges when he gave the annual Abbey College Prestige
Lecture on Tuesday night.
New Zealand was "in the midst of extraordinary change in
population characteristics, globalisation, climate change,
information technology" , he said in the lecture at the
University of Otago.
Mr Cook, who is also a former director of the Office for
National Statistics in the United Kingdom, said consideration
of "improving government performance" in New Zealand was
often linked to an "intensity of focus on the public
Yet 25 years of state sector reform in this country had "left
us with a doubtful legacy, some desperation to change, but
little intellectual basis for deciding what to do".
New Zealand was "unique to the extent to which current
management teams are cast aside in the quest for the perfect
structure, on the presumption that knowledge, people,
systems, and citizen engagement will fall into place".
"They rarely do, before the next reshuffle."
The public service was essentially "a unique knowledge
centre" built on "personal competence, knowledge management,
citizen engagement, strong systems and local adaptation to
our size, geography and place".
The service had to be "continually learning, through inquiry,
structured evaluation, formal review and a culture of
But such key attributes were "disrupted through persistent
structural change", he warned.
Protecting such attributes should provide "severe constraints
on the management of change" and "key tests of the
effectiveness of institutions", but they often became "barely
The system was "not working if it cannot adapt without such
serious cost as we ready ourselves for achieving what is most
important to us."
Proposed extensive changes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Trade appeared poorly focused, he said in an interview.
Restructuring changes needed to be well justified through
Public service organisations could be damaged by loss of
valuable staff, including people who had built up good lines
of communication with other agencies.
Ideas explored in the lecture drew on publications and joint
research undertaken with Wellington business consultant Dr
•Born in Dunedin, Mr Cook is a University of Otago graduate
and a senior associate at the Victoria University of
Wellington Institute of Policy Studies.