That back-office bullshit

So the budget is out and the stupidity is now apparent for all to see. The entirely venal National Party approach to facts, projections and actual numbers is summed up nicely over at The Standard:

I have never, for instance, seen a budget in which cash raised from yet-to-be-sold assets was put on the books as if it already existed. They’ve basically bet our health system on being able to flog our assets for an imaginary price. Nor have I ever seen a New Zealand government make a billion dollars worth of cuts without being able to say what they are cutting. I don’t believe they actually know where these cuts will come from or how sustainable they will be.

One of the sources of these public sector savings cuts is in the mythical back office, the allegedly unproductive part of the sector that accounts for the money, runs the computers, keeps the lights on, runs the payroll and all the rest of those inessential services. National has long pursued the line that there is plenty of wasted cash sloshing around, being consumed by unproductive “pen-pushers”. Thankfully someone did some actual research on the numbers:

The 33 agencies measured in the report spend an annual $1.85 billion on back-office functions, or about 9.8% of their total operational costs, of which $1.05 billion is spent on ICT.

The report came from Treasury and the Department of Internal Affairs, so the expenditure numbers are likely to be reasonably robust. There are probably some savings possible through rationalising IT systems and the like, but it’s also likely that at least some of this low-hanging fruit has already been plucked in response to the belt-tightening of the last three years.

So the myth that there is lots of money that can be redirected from the public service’s back office to the front office looks like a piece of ideological cant, rather than anything attributable to rational analysis – what a surprise. English was pushing the party line this morning:

“We want government administration to be as efficient and well organised as it can be. At present the costs of running government are too high and there is too much duplication and waste.”

What’s missing from this statement is anything that resembles numbers, so it’s a matter of wild-assed conjecture whether a single dollar will be saved. The reality is that “too much duplication and waste” is really a coded phrase for more job cuts in the public sector.



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