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The State Services Commissioner
Role of the State Services Commission
Review of the Centre

The State Services Commissioner

The State Sector Act 1988 provides that there shall be an officer called the State Services Commissioner, appointed by the Governor-General in Council on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Under the State Sector Act 1988, the State Services Commissioner is required to:

  • review the machinery of government, including the allocation of functions between departments, the need for new departments or amalgamation or abolition of departments, and the co-ordination between departments
  • review the performance of departments and their chief executives
  • appoint chief executives of departments and negotiate their conditions of employment
  • provide and maintain in association with chief executives, a senior executive service for the Public Service
  • negotiate conditions of employment for Public Service employees
  • promote and develop personnel policies and standards of personnel administration for the Public Service
  • advise on training and career development of public servants
  • promote, develop and monitor equal employment opportunities (EEO) policies and programmes for the Public Service
  • advise on management systems, structures and organisations
    at the direction of the Prime Minister, exercise other functions in relation to the administration and management of the Public Service.

In a number of cases, the Commissioner has delegated authority to others to fulfil a particular responsibility. For example, negotiating conditions of employment for Public Service staff has been delegated to Public Service chief executives, and negotiating conditions of employment for education sector staff has been delegated to the Secretary for Education.

Role of the State Services Commission

Central agencies

The State Services Commission as an institution exists to assist the State Services Commissioner to fulfil the Commissioner’s statutory functions under the State Sector Act 1988. The State Services Commission facilitates the development of a high performing and high value for money State sector capable of delivering the policies of current and future New Zealand governments.

In broad terms, the role of the Commission is to:

  • assist the State Services Commissioner in appointing Public Service chief executives and reviewing their performance
  • act as a principal adviser to Government on the management of its ownership interest in the Public Service by providing advice and business analysis to the Minister of State Services and other Ministers with ownership responsibilities in respect of Public Service departments as required
  • advise the Government about State sector ownership issues, including public management systems, the machinery of government, human resources and the capability required to deliver on the Government’s key goals over time
  • promulgate appropriate values and standards of behaviour for the State sector.

Central agencies

Three of the 36 departments are known as ‘central agencies’. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury, and the State Services Commission (SSC) combine to perform a ‘corporate office’ role for the Public Service. Just as many private sector companies have a corporate office, so the Public Service has these organisations to carry out many of the functions associated with the management and coordination of what is a large enterprise.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has an interest in anything that may have implications for the Government as a whole. It advises the Prime Minister about general policy and constitutional matters and coordinates policy work in the State sector.

The Treasury advises the government about economic and financial matters, and especially the development and management of its Budget, and has interests in all issues that have expenditure and revenue implications.

The State Services Commission advises the government about the organisation of the State sector, the effectiveness of its operations, management of change, personnel and information management, and industrial relations matters. The State Services Commissioner acts as employer of all Public Service chief executives.


The rule of law
Serving the government of the day
Political neutrality
Free and frank advice
Professionalism and integrity

A number of very important principles guide the Public Service. These are:

The rule of law

Public servants must act lawfully, and they can be held to account for any breach of the law that they commit while performing their duties.

Serving the government of the day

Ministers have the political mandate and responsibility to govern. The role of the Public Service is to serve the aims and objectives of the government of the day by assisting in the formulation and implementation of government policy.

Political neutrality

While the Public Service serves the government of the day, it also must be able to serve successive governments, which may be drawn from different political parties.

Public servants must ensure not only that they maintain the confidence of their current minister, but also that the same relationship can be established with any future minister.

Free and frank advice

It is the responsibility of public servants to provide honest, impartial and comprehensive advice to ministers and to alert ministers to the possible consequences of following particular policies, whether or not such advice accords with ministers’ views.

Professionalism and integrity

Ministers, Parliament and the public are entitled to expect high standards of conduct from the Public Service. Public servants must be fair and impartial in all official dealings.

Review of the Centre

New Zealand’s Review of the Centre, set up by Ministers in 2001, was to review how well the public management system responded to the needs of citizens and Ministers. Introducing 2002 work on The Review of the Centre, the then State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham said New Zealand was moving into a new phase of public management, starting to do some of the “harder yards”. In a more demanding, rapidly changing world, the Public Service needs to get closer to citizens and the community, to understand their needs more, and to focus more on achieving results. This has some very specific implications for the Public Service and the wider State sector.

One agency cannot do it alone – agencies have to work together, and with communities outside Wellington, to address complex, and ever-changing issues, through collaboration, experimentation, and evidence-based policy development
values and high standards of behaviour across the State sector are critical to coping with this volatility, being the “glue” which helps staff operate with integrity and consistency in complex circumstances .

New Zealand needs good, well-rounded people to lead and manage the State sector in this difficult environment.

The Review was an important process. It allowed the Government to consider and take ownership of aspects of the existing system and current developments, to place its own emphases and priorities, and to begin some changes as well.

Existing initiatives such as the Values and Standards work were endorsed; moves to be more collaborative, and to strengthen Public Service capability, such as the Executive Leadership Programme, were given more focus and strength. Michael Wintringham said this was done through the government’s greater emphasis on the collective interest and capability building; and initiatives were begun in areas such as innovation.

Find out more!

The State Services Commission site has sections on Public Service standards, the Review of the Centre, the role of the State Services Commission and much, much more.


Photo of former State Services Commissioner, Michael Winteringham.

Former State Services Commissioner, Michael Winteringham. Mark Prebble is the current Commissioner.