28 Mar 2013

DoC director-general defends job cuts

6:26 am on 28 March 2013

The head of the Department of Conservation says services will not be diminished by restructuring and the loss of 140 jobs.

An Audit Office report three months ago found the department's regional structure that's about to be axed is one of the department's biggest strengths.

The department announced on Tuesday it is cutting 140 jobs and said the changes will ensure it meets its $8.7 million savings target. In an earlier round of restructuring last year, 96 jobs were cut.

As part of the latest changes, DoC plans to turn its 11 regional areas into six conservancies, with the loss of 118 regional jobs.

The biggest changes are in the southern South Island, where the Canterbury, Otago and Southland conservancies will be merged. Northland, Auckland and parts of Waikato will also be combined to form one large conservancy.

Auditor-General Lyn Provost said in a report in December last year that regional staff were considered by most stakeholders to be the department's biggest strength.

The report said regional staff were highly respected by stakeholders while national managers were not as understanding of local knowledge and relationships.

However, DoC Director-General Al Morrison says the department is not taking away the regional structure and the changes could in benefit field work.

"We're simply saying we want management to be a full-time dedicated position and that will release other people to go and spend all their time in the field," he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Wednesday.

"A lot of those managers who work part-time in management actually do so reluctantly and want to be out in the field."

Mr Morrison says the mergers will improve efficiency, for example by increasing the number of people accountable to each manager.

Commercial partnerships

The Auditor-General's report is also critical of DoC's partnerships with outside organisations - an idea which will be extended under the Department's restructuring plans.

Over the next few years, DoC hopes to receive $6.5 million from commercial partnerships.

The Auditor-General warned the department to be careful when entering these arrangements, saying corporate finances can change, putting the relationship at risk.

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says difficulties in commercial arrangements have already been shown in the Buller area where a pest control operation funded by troubled firm Solid Energy is under threat.

Drop in RMA submissions

The department is defending a drop in the number of submissions it is making on resource consent applications.

Last year it made 48 submissions, a fall from 98 representations the year before.

The department's deputy director-general in charge of policy, Doris Johnston, says the reduction followed restructuring at the Department.

She says DoC has reprioritised its Resource Management Act work.

The Labour and Green Parties say advocacy is a core role of the department, and it should be making more submissions.