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Media StatementIn pursuit of State Sector Performance

28 February 2008

The public sector has made performance gains since the reforms of the 1980s, but needs to strive continually for improvement, Secretary to the Treasury John Whitehead told a symposium in Wellington this afternoon.

In a speech entitled "Continuity and Change: The Ongoing Pursuit of State Sector Performance," Mr Whitehead said public sector performance was of fundamental importance because of its economic implications and its effects on New Zealand's economy, and suggested some areas of particular focus.

"While New Zealand’s existing arrangements have delivered good gains, public sector performance is still mixed, and there is scope for improvement in most agencies, particularly in the area of achieving results and value-for-money," Mr Whitehead said.

Mr Whitehead said that while it is important to examine the role of the public sector management system in improving performance, big gains can also come from the players within that system – how they behave and how they operate within the system.

"There are fundamental principles of the system that we need to maintain, and others that need to be further embedded.  System fundamentals, such as the Official Information Act, political neutrality, the provision to Ministers of free and frank advice, and public service professionalism needed to be fiercely protected, and nurtured.

"Embedding recent and future changes, including the Crown Entities Act 2004, the review of accountability documents and working more closely with individual agencies and sectors are all things we need to do to continually improve".

Mr Whitehead said there were three areas that were worth exploring further in a bid to lift the public sector’s performance and produce better outcomes for all New Zealanders.

"As a first step, there is scope to look at performance incentives and the behaviour of the players and agencies in the system.  Secondly, we need to put performance into a longer-term frame – to allow the development of enduring and sustainable long-term policies.  Thirdly, we need to give greater effect to a whole-of-government collective approach, and leadership within the public sector.

"We have every right to celebrate the gains of recent decades. The public service has become more responsive and innovative, and delivers better services.  However, public expectations are such that better is not good enough, and there are some service quality problems. The answer is not easy but … we all have a responsibility to achieve better performance and value for money in service provision," Mr Whitehead said.

The full text of the speech is online at:
 http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/media-speeches/speeches/continuity-change

ENDS

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