3 Aug 2010

Government signals jobs could go in policy review

9:56 pm on 3 August 2010

The Government has signalled more jobs might be cut as it reviews how much it is spending on policy advice.

Finance Minister Bill English says the increase in spending on policy advice between 2003 and 2009 has been faster than the general increase in overall government spending.

Mr English says during this time spending on policy advice rose from $510 million to $880 million a year, and is now three-quarters of what is spent on the Police and nearly matches what the Government spends on social housing.

Mr English says he cannot rule out the review leading to cuts in spending, while papers released with the review's terms of reference acknowledge that it could lead to job cuts.

The Labour Party has questioned the $880 million figure, saying it was worked out by doing a Google search of Budget figures using the words "policy" or "policies".

But Mr English on Tuesday defended the way the Government came up with the amount, telling Checkpoint it is money that has been identified as being spent on policy advice.

"Well, we just take it at face value. If the public service labels an activity as an amount of money as policy or policy advice, we believe them. What that tells us is that it is up to $880 million spent on it."

Labour challenges claim

The Labour Party on Tuesday challenged the Government's claim it may be able to employ fewer advisers and still get high-quality policy advice at almost no cost.

State Services spokesperson Grant Robertson told Checkpoint Mr English seems comfortable with the idea of privatising advice by sourcing it from outside the public sector.

"I think that really undermines the Westminster system which is that public servants will give free and frank advice.

"It's actually quite dangerous if politicians simply go ahead and just choose the advice they like, as Mr English is wont to do with one or two of his private advisers, rather than get the free and frank advice that neutral public servants can provide."

Graham Scott, a former Treasury Secretary will lead the policy advice review. A report is expected by December.