Policy Quarterly Volume 7 Issue 3
This edition of Policy Quarterly was not designed around a specific theme but it is interesting to note that several of the papers deal with the effects of increasing diversity and complexity in the present and the implications for the ways and means of governing in the future. These papers convey a sense that the institutional framework which has served for recent decades will have to change significantly if New Zealand governments and the public sector are function effectively in the 21st century.
At a recent conference presented at the Institute of Policy Studies/Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Paul Reynolds, Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment, raised questions about biophysical limits and their policy implications. In his view a significant part of the problem lies in the nature of the present policy institutions. New types are needed to meet the complex policy challenges of the present and future.
Collaborative, collective entities, some of them grown locally, are showing the way. Michael Mintrom pursues a similar line of thought. He is disappointed with the recommendations of the recent review of expenditure on policy advice arguing that policy analysts need to give politicians the services that they need to perform as policy leaders and agents of transformative change.
For policy advice to create public value, it must be developed in a way that also shapes public desires and perceptions. To achieve this, different kinds of policy development organisations are required. These would extend outside the public sector and bring diverse groups of people together to discuss pressing public issues and how they might be resolved. Living standards are broader than income alone, and are determined by a wide range of material and nonmaterial factors. In an important development, Treasury has created a wide-ranging framework to conceptualise and measure living standards, designed to enable consistent policy advice to government. Ben Gleisner, Mary Llewellyn-Fowler and Fiona McAlister provide an overview of this work. The framework recognises the importance of looking beyond economic measures in assessing living standards, to matters such as citizens’freedoms and rights, the distribution and sustainability of living standards, and self-assessed subjective measures of well-being.
Confronted by difficult economic times, the National-led government is demanding expenditure reduction across the public sector. Bill Ryan reviews the public management research for lessons that can be applied but is sceptical that much inefficiency or waste is left to be found. Cutbacks often have organisational and staff effects that reduce the capacity of the public sector to do the job that government and citizens want.
Institutional innovations with potential are emerging elsewhere that promise long-term reductions in public resourcing but will involve significant short and medium term costs in developing them. With a rising chorus of demands for institutional reform in New Zealand, how to move forward? Derek Gill and Susan Hitchiner suggest that public management in New Zealand is at a crossroad with no clear direction ahead, so they offer five possible strategies. These range from small-scale incremental development to a larger, more ambitious programme of sector-wide change, through to a final option of dealing with the fundamental political issues that are holding back development of public management.
Regulation is a core function of government but there is contest over the best and most effective way to regulate. Peter Mumford is concerned for the state of our regulatory regimes. He wonders whether it would be better to treat each as an experiment and then continually check whether they are working in practice. To test this idea he creates a framework based on seven attributes and retrospectively applies these to the 1991 building regulations that led to ‘leaky buildings’. Working thus, he suggests, would provide initial diagnostic and early-warning devices for monitoring the outcomes of regulation more effectively than has been achieved to date.
The last three papers in this edition all focus on social policy issues, very much to the fore in New Zealand with the recent Welfare Working Group (WWG) report. A major concern of the Welfare Working Group (WWG) was households whose working-age members on benefits have a marginal attachment to the labour market, seeking ways to motivate these people into paid work. Tony Burton suggests that standard bureaucratic rules based on the presumed effects of matters such as effective marginal tax rates, are not adequate to understand how and why a large proportion of such people act as they do. A better analysis would examine the sources of income and the uncertainty of work for people with low skills. It would also look at the incentives created by additional sources of benefit income and informal income. Stace and Sullivan focus on the impact of the WWG’s recommendations on individuals and families in the disability community, particularly given the WWG report’s preoccupation with paid work. Two concerns are uppermost. The first is that most disabled adults experience fluctuating capacity, and a lack of suitable work and understanding of the overall effects of having multiple impairments. The second is that single and partnered invalid beneficiaries carry out a considerable amount of voluntary and unpaid work each week. If they are forced into low-quality, low-paid work, significant opportunity costs would be incurred. Maureen Baker’s paper on key issues in paid parental leave policy rounds out this edition. In 2002 New Zealand employees gained access to paid parental leave, but other countries such as Canada established these benefits much earlier and/or used a mix of policy parameters. Paid parental leave is essential for women’s employment equity, as is subsidised child care services. Employment choices and constraints are not the same for most mothers and fathers. Development of social programmes must acknowledge gendered patterns of work.
Published in August 2011