NZ cuts welfare dependency on way to a 'Better Public Service'

By Stephen Easton

July 23, 2014

New figures out of New Zealand this week show public servants making headway in some difficult policy areas that were put under the microscope in 2012 through the Better Public Services (BPS) initiative.

BPS is based around measurable targets and seeks to overcome 10 difficult policy challenges, such as reducing violence against children, increasing the number of students who finish high school, and making interactions with citizens cheaper and easier through e-government.

“For public servants, it’s about really embedding a culture of innovation, of continuous improvement,” explains State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie. “It’s about helping public servants have access to some tools that will allow them to do their jobs better.”

Among the headline results, welfare dependency — measured by the number of employable people on payments for more than a year — decreased 8.5% over the year to March. This compares with a 3.6% drop over the previous year and shows the Ministry of Social Development is on track to meet its BPS target of a 30% reduction by June, 2017.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett attributes this success to recent welfare reforms that have seen the creation of one payment called Job Seeker Support for anyone the government expects to find part-time or full-time work, including sole parents and widows whose youngest children are over 14, for example. This is combined with targeted case management services for people at risk of long term welfare dependency.

“The impact of the Government’s welfare reforms can be seen in the fact that almost half of the people leaving the welfare system were working with the new Work Focused Case Management service,” Ms Bennett says. “[…] Nearly 90 per cent of all people on Job Seeker Support are actively participating in full-time work related interventions designed to prepare them for and help them get jobs.”

The New Zealand Government’s latest BPS report card shows the Kiwis are on target to meet five of the ten targets set two years ago.

State Services Minister Jonathan Coleman says a key feature of the BPS program has been a focus on collaboration and innovation in the public sector.

“Agencies are making better use of data to drive better services and to meet the needs of local communities,” Coleman says. “Agencies are also learning about what works through research and evaluation.

“There is a greater focus on chief executives [of government departments/ministries] doing what is best for the system as a whole, rather than just looking at the short term interests of their department, and that is supporting the changes needed to achieve results.”

Another key plank of the BPS program is the appointment of three senior public servants as “functional leaders” in three important whole-of-government areas: ICT strategy, property strategy and procurement reform.

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