The number of public servants grew by 6.9% – a rise of nearly 4000 full-time equivalents – in the year to June 30, according to data published today by the Public Service Commission.

About 45% of the 3950 new public servants in the year ended June 2021 are attributable to covid-related work in four large agencies, according to the commission:

  • Ministry of Health – 450 staff for covid response and vaccination.
  • Ministry of Social Development – 850 for covid-related frontline services.
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) – 250 for MIQ facilities.
  • Customs – 250 for maritime border orders.

Another 40% of the year’s growth was “to support other government priorities”, public service commissioner Peter Hughes said. These included:

  • Ministry of Education – 400 full-time equivalent staff (FTEs) for new learning support coordinators, and regional staff working to refresh the curriculum.
  • Oranga Tamariki – 325 FTEs to focus on crisis prevention, reduce caseloads by about one-third, support caregivers, and work at the interface with the justice system.
  • MBIE – 250 for technical and regulatory change, including financial regulations.
  • Stats NZ – 250 to enhance the next census, improve survey response rates, enhance analysis (especially on child poverty), improve data capability across the public sector, and improve data’s contribution to iwi and Māori.
  • Ministry for the Environment – 150 to transition to more sustainable land use and lower emissions, and prepare for the new legislation that replaces the Resource Management Act.
  • Government Communications Security Bureau and Security Intelligence Service – 100 for cyber security, technology and “other operational roles”.
  • Ministry for Pacific Peoples – 50 for programmes to improve housing, financial planning and employment support.
  • Land Information NZ – 50 to further develop the online land registration system.

The higher number of public servants coincides with a fall in spending on contractors and consultants, both in dollar terms and as a share of total employment costs.

“I don’t see the Public Service growing at the same rate in future,” Hughes said.

He told BusinessDesk that he’s “not worried” about the growth in the number of public servants while it’s being driven by covid-19 and other new government work “and while we’ve got contractors and consultants heading in the right direction.” 

The data, with historical numbers going back to 2000, covers 36 core government agencies – departments and departmental agencies – but excludes some large workforces such as the police, defence force, ACC and district health boards over which the commission has less influence.

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