Billions of dollars have been pumped into the public service, backed by the Labour government’s promise of a transformation of key sectors including health, education and welfare. The problem, argues Danyl McLauchlan in today’s Sunday Essay, is that most of that money is going to managers, analysts, comms staff and consultants, rather than much-needed frontline workers.
He traces New Zealand’s bloated public service bureaucracy to a political sphere that has become “increasingly therapeutic rather than material; it’s the politics of personal self-esteem, emotional wellbeing, self-expression, self validation, relentless positivity.”
Here’s an excerpt:
“Aren’t we seeing an erosion in state capacity alongside all this centralisation and expansion? Aren’t outcomes in health, education and welfare trending down rather than up? What’s going on? You can’t have effective public services without bureaucracies, but it’s not clear that the torrents of money flowing into them are delivering more value to the public or to the marginalised communities some of them are named after. It’s almost as if the primary role of the administrative state is shifting from serving the people to the redistribution of wealth to the staffers, lawyers, PR companies, managers and consultancy firms that work in them, or for them. A billion dollars a year in public sector consultancy is an awful lot of money when you’re running out of teachers and nurses because you don’t pay them enough, and the fire trucks are breaking down.
“I sound a little conspiratorial when I talk about this, as if there’s a smoky room filled with senior ministers, high-ranked public servants and partners at consultancy and law firms all laughing as they cut frontline services and stuff wads of cash into each other’s underpants. And a certain amount of this happens under every government. But I think there’s something else at work here.”
It’s a great piece and I really recommend reading the whole thing.