Thursday, April 04, 2024

Cuts will only scratch the surface

While this morning’s news heralded 134 job losses at the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development has just announced their own plan to achieve the 6.5% savings requested by the new government:

We will begin by offering people in some parts of our organisation the choice of voluntary redundancy. People will be able to apply until April 15. At this stage we don’t have a specific target of how many voluntary redundancies we are seeking. Those in frontline roles will not be able to apply for voluntary redundancy.

After this voluntary redundancy process, it is likely there will be a further process targeting role reductions in some areas, mainly within our National Office in Wellington. 

Of course, opposition parties, left-wing media and unions are describing these cuts as cruel and disgraceful.

But has anyone looked at the growth that has preceded these cuts?

In 2018, according to their annual report, MSD had “6,725 full-time-equivalent staff positions”.

By 2023 that had grown to “9,329 full-time-equivalent (FTE) staff positions”. 

That’s a 39 percent growth in full-time staff.

RNZ is reporting that MSD is “calling for mass voluntary redundancies.”  The word “mass” does not appear anywhere in the MSD release. That’s RNZ’s own invention. If it was possible to achieve “mass” redundancies in affected areas, apparently “human resources, policy, strategy and communications” that indicates those departments are well and truly over-staffed anyway.

Looking at MSD’s core responsibilities it is fair to say the extra 39% staff added in the last 5 years has achieved no improvement.

Their key message is, “We help New Zealanders to be safe, strong and independent.”

Yet there are many more people on benefits (including more children in benefit-dependent households) and people are staying dependent longer. And it would be a stretch too far to claim that people are feeling safer.

What is disappointing is that the staff cuts (like those across the whole public service) will not take levels back to where they were in 2017/18 (with possible allowance for population growth). They will merely continue the growth of government in the entrenched 3 steps forward – 1 step back pattern that has become all too familiar over many decades.