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  • rmacculloch

Wellington does not work

The biggest single reform NZ could make that would likely have the largest positive effect on many of the ideals which our country champions, such as lessening inequality, reducing poverty and increasing productivity would be ... to shift large parts of the government bureaucracy out of Wellington. The capital city, where Parliament resides, should still be kept as Wellington, but many civil servants should be moved out.


This debate is presently raging in the UK, where there is even a question mark over whether the House of Lords will remain sitting in London, or move to York. The Cabinet Office Minister, Mr Gove, said major changes to the civil service were needed to tackle "group think". These comments ring even more true in NZ. In my own experience, Wellington has become a "beltway" city. This term is used in America to refer to the insularity of Washington. The bureaucrats in our capital city have become estranged from the people.


Many of those in the Wellington civil service lack commercial expertise. Government departments are recruiting in their own image. There needs to be a broader and deeper pool of decision-makers, spread more widely across the country. Group think can affect any organisation - the tendency to coalesce around a cosy consensus, resist challenge, look for information which confirms existing biases and reject rigorous testing of delivery.


Northland and Auckland are where many of the social problems in NZ are concentrated, yet Wellington is a world away. Queenstown is where our tourism industry is focused, yet Wellington is a world away. Rather than ask for money under the auspices of the "provincial growth fund", politicians like Shane Jones may do better by pushing for swathes of the civil service to be moved out of Wellington to provinces, closer to the real needs of the people.


DownToEarth Kiwi concurs with the British Government's view that "more diversity in recruitment and emphasis on mathematical and scientific skills was key to making officials more responsive to the public's needs". Our civil servants are particularly weak on maths, statistics and probability, skills all fundamental to implementing "evidence-based" policy. Statistics NZ couldn't even run a census! On diversity, Wellington talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. A large swathe of Kiwis simply do not want to live in Wellington, so the pool of applicants to jobs there is highly selective.


I know it is unlikely to ever happen. Wellington civil servants who read this blog will be amused by the suggestion, yet go back to their dinner parties with friends from other government departments. Back to their group think.


For the British view, see:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-53210765