Firing and rehiring doesn't make sense

If there's one thing that New Zealand is good at, it's the false economy.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

If there's one thing that New Zealand is good at, it's the false economy.

If you bought a house built 10 years ago, chances are it has "leaky-building syndrome", thanks to builders not treating the raw wood properly. This problem will cost the country billions of dollars to fix.

Now the New Zealand Government could be making similar mistakes in the technology sphere with regards to staffing.

Until a few years back, during the "Helengrad" years, central government staffing levels rose considerably, putting great pressure on Wellington's office and housing markets.

But in today's more constrained times, the National-led government is shedding the "public service", with ICT workers among the worst affected.

Yet, many ICT staffers are finding themselves re-employed as contractors, and often at higher rates. Indeed, reluctance by central government to take on permanent ICT staff is fuelling a drive to short-term contracts, even at premium rates.

Consequently, we are seeing a renewed rise in "career contractors", with ICT contractors able to find plenty of work, make a career of it and enjoy lifestyle benefits, too.

We also hear of ICT staff gaining lucrative work in the private sector, say, with vendors, in addition to contracting roles.

So, is all of this laying off and contracting providing savings to the taxpayer?

I wonder, especially when we hear that costs for some ICT projects are becoming inflated.

It may well be that by not keeping skilled staff, the government finds itself having to pay more for these skills.

One would think that as one of New Zealand's largest employers and spenders in the ICT space, it could keep, nurture and up-skill the staff it needs, rather than pay short-term premiums. It's not as if there is a shortage of government ICT projects.

In addition to the "inflated" Inland Revenue Department project, we have seen Housing New Zealand finish a $72 million ICT revamp, and will soon have further work around government authentication services. There will, of course, be many others, helped by the prime minister, who sees e-government as being dominant in government delivery.

To help co-ordinate e-government activities, a few years back, the post of government CIO was created, and the second person in that post took up his role at the start of the month.

The government could leverage the central overview that the government CIO has. Some media employers, like Fairfax New Zealand, for example, now have in their contracts that journalists are not working for a particular newspaper, but rather for the regional group or the national employer. Thus, they can easily be switched around if need be. Government could take a leaf out of this book.

Thus, instead of ICT staffers working for the Ministry of Whatever and getting laid off and be re-employed on contract by the Ministry of Something Else, perhaps they can simply work for a "Central Government ICT Office", answerable directly to the all-of-government CIO, and be switched around as and when needed.

Surely, that will work out cheaper for the taxpayer and help prevent costly over-runs.

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