Much of the language used and aspirations conveyed by Mr Rennie sounded familiar to followers of the UK’s civil service reform agenda. However, Mr Rennie’s presentation (and the response by Mark Lowcock, permanent secretary at the Department for International Development, and head of a working group on accountability arrangements in Whitehall), also illustrated some notable differences between how the two systems work. First is the very existence of the State Services Commissioner (and the Commission he heads). The Commissioner is “appointer, reappointer and disappointer” of agency chief executives (permanent secretary equivalents) across the system. Cabinet has a formal veto over his appointment recommendations, but this has been exercised just once in 25 years. The Commissioner is placed at arm’s length from the political leadership. The current NZ government considered whether to combine the positions of Commissioner with the head of the Prime Ministers’ department, but decided that this would send the wrong signal so maintained the existing structure. A central function of the Commissioner is to set performance expectations for departmental heads. New Zealand has learnt that setting too many priorities detracts from the effectiveness and impact of the performance management system. A new streamlined approach centres on the central […]

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