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How DPMC can handle major challenges

What type of issues might citizens or those who represent them bring directly or indirectly to the Prime Minister?

This briefing set out to assist citizens assess when PM and DPMC might appropriately be asked to help them have their voices heard - and where it is inappropriate to focus at that level.

The DPMC’s overall outcome - Good government with effective public service support - clearly supports the government’s goal to “maintain trust in government and provide strong social services”.

DPMC works at the point where ministers, agencies and advice streams come together at the Cabinet table – ensuring that the final decisions of the government have been given effective public-service support at a departmental level.

The DPMC made its role more public in its 2005 Statement of Intent (SOI), where it provided interested people help in finding out and working out what they might seek on significant matters from the Prime Minister. You can find out more from statements of intent, and other information on the DPMC website.

People with significant questions who may have wanted help from the Prime Minister earlier on might have found little official guidance to turn to. But the 2005 DPMC statement of Intent sought to bring greater clarity to its various key interventions, linkages, outcomes, outputs and activities and the governments goals for the public sector.

DPMC was established in January 1990 to provide impartial, high-quality advice and support to the Executive (the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, and the Cabinet).

A totally separate body, the Office of the Prime Minister, also advises the Prime Minister and is the primary point of responsibility for coalition management.

The SOI does not answer every question – given so much is still a matter of judgment – but it does give useful pointers.

The pointers might get even clearer in future SOIs if the chief executives of the three central agencies, DPMC, Treasury and the State Services Commission make and report progress on their fresh commitment to focus on more planning.

Responding to emerging policy issues
DPMC needs to maintain sufficient capability to respond rapidly at an administrative level to new policy issues that require close monitoring by senior ministers.

Examples of this “troubleshooting” and issues-management role include the Climate Change Project and the Foreshore and Seabed group, both of which were housed in DPMC.

Other issues DPMC has had on its agenda show what the PM might attend to with the help of DPMC – e.g. health reforms, safer communities, positive ageing, review of ministerial actions, Y2K and some big urgent matters such as natural disasters.

Issues are responded to as required and DPMC may be asked to set up temporary units or task forces to provide advice on a particular issue (or issues) within a specified length of time.

The DPMC is already employed in helping coordinate some issues, in trying to manage other issues, and could propose or be invited to handle other issues that may not even have been defined, or may be waiting for some trigger to bring them centre-stage in the nation’s affairs.

The continuity of government
DPMC provides the continuity of constitutional and administrative services that helps maintain New Zealand’s strong parliamentary democracy. One of DPMC’s roles is to be the “constitutional and institutional glue” that holds the system together; another is to be the “oil” that allows the free flow of information, advice and policy for government decision making.

DPMC’s high-level outcome is also the responsibility of many other parts of the government system, including ministers and the public service as a whole. Along with the two other central agencies – Treasury and the SSC – DPMC is responsible for providing the leadership that enables the public service to carry out the business of government efficiently, effectively and collectively.

It provides a broad mix of activities – from wide-ranging assessments and policy advice to support for centre-of-government functions and public-sector leadership – that together allow the government of the day to conduct its business in pursuit of its mandated political objectives.

The department’s main outcome remains “good government, with effective public service support”. This outcome can only be achieved if DPMC works effectively across government with the entire range of public-sector agencies. A robust whole-of government approach is therefore the essential underpinning of the department’s effectiveness.

Coordination of central agencies
DPMC supports the Prime Minister’s twin roles as leader of the government and chair of Cabinet, and has explicit responsibility for promoting co-ordination across the public service. This co-ordination role extends some of the department’s activities across the whole public service and – depending on the issue – further out into local government, industry and the wider community.

A great deal of DPMC’s activities focus on facilitating government decision making at a strategic and operational level. A major role is to help co-ordinate the work of the core public service departments and ministries – so that decision making takes account of all relevant viewpoints and is as coherent and complete as possible.

As a central agency, DPMC works with the Treasury and the SSC on a number of fronts to support government and provide leadership within the state sector. All three agencies have a shared interest in a high-performing, trusted and accessible state sector, delivering the right things in the right way at the right prices. This is an outcome to which all three agencies contribute, through their respective contributing outcomes.

During 2004/05 the three chief executives, John Whitehead, Mark Prebble and Maarten Wevers, made a commitment to develop better approaches to working together on shared outcome work. Initially, the focus was on building a clearer picture of each agency’s separate business and the respective contributions that each agency will expect of the others in carrying out that business. The agencies will also focus on building greater co-ordination and collaboration in their respective planning processes.

The three central CEOs planned to develop a system that enables the central agencies to identify emerging performance problems early within poorly performing agencies and develop a process for dealing with them.

Each of the three central agencies has differing but complementary roles in developing effective outcomes for the public service as a whole.

The Treasury seeks to improve the effective and efficient use of state resources and regulatory powers and to improve decision-making and performance-management systems for the state sector.

The SSC focuses on producing a high-performing state sector by promoting the development of senior managers and effective public-management systems in the public service.

DPMC’s emphasis is on effective support for the decision-making processes of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The aim is to ensure that the elected government and its administrative agencies can design and deliver policies and services that improve the lives of citizens, within a framework of stable constitutional government.

The common purpose of the three central agencies is to create a public-management system that facilitates a high-performing state sector.

In this environment, an increasingly important role for DPMC is to take account of links with other areas of government policy and to consider the longer-term implications of particular policies.

Planning ahead
DPMC ‘s 2005 SOI recorded that it was moving to ensure that matters such as planning are tackled in a more collaborative manner with the other central agencies – The Treasury and the State Services Commission.

Inside DPMC
DPMC’s outcomes require it to
• be aware of current and emerging issues relevant to its work
• conduct thorough and robust analysis
• provide soundly based advice
• disseminate the government’s decisions in a clear and timely way
• engage in an open and constructive manner across the whole of government.

DPMC has seven business units: the Cabinet Office, the Policy Advisory Group, the External Assessments Bureau, the Corporate Services Unit, the Domestic and External Security Group, and Government House. Each of these units have their own programmes, personnel, relationships, accountabilities and history.

Responsibilities that support the continuity of executive government were at the forefront of DPMC work preparations for 2005 and 2006.

Government-formation: There was a requirement to ensure that the processes and conventions relating to the 2005 election, and the government-formation period following the election, are understood and upheld.

Governor-General: DPMC anticipated a corresponding requirement to manage the process associated with the change of Governor-General in 2006. Because of her or his key role in New Zealand’s system of government, effective support for the Governor-General by DPMC is a key contributor to its overall outcome of “good government”. Maintaining the credibility of the person and office of the Governor-General is integral to the effective performance of the constitutional and ceremonial roles.

Cabinet Office: It is the Cabinet Office within DPMC that is charged with ensuring that the constitutional practices and arrangements that support the continuity of executive government are conducted and upheld in accordance with our constitutional framework. Many aspects of New Zealand’s constitution operate on the basis of long-standing conventions and practices. Some conventions remain closely linked to those New Zealand has inherited, whilst others have developed a distinct New Zealand character.

The Cabinet Office is the recognised source of expert knowledge on the systems of Cabinet and executive government – and is absolutely scrupulous in maintaining impartiality between administrations, agencies and individual ministers. One of its activities has been to provide advice on the progress and outcomes of the inquiry conducted by the
Constitutional Arrangements Committee.

Security and risk management: Security and risk management are increasingly prominent issues for governments worldwide. DPMC’s role is to offer the Prime Minister, and ministers, a whole-of-government view about risks and major security issues that are of interest to New Zealand. Continuing, co-ordinated effort across a significant number of government agencies is required for New Zealand to manage security risks, and keep abreast of international expectations in this field. The Domestic and External Security Group, and the External Assessments Bureau provide these services.

DPMC capability: In the past, because of its place at the centre of the government system, DPMC has been the home to a number of special policy units established to deal with particular issues that required a whole-of-government response by government. DPMC aims to have the ability to manage policy-development challenges of this nature.

The length of time staff recently have worked for DPMC in its central Wellington offices was on average six years. There are slightly more men than women, about 80% are Pakeha and 10% Maori. The average age is 45 years.

DPMC seeks excellent working relationships, based on high levels of trust, with all agencies that could influence or affect the business of government. This is necessary for gathering information, developing and testing policy advice, and generally gaining stakeholders’ engagement in policy implementation.

DPMC’s areas of responsibility and the various policy and information flows through the system of executive government can be further understood with the aid of a diagram in the DPMC SOI provided to Parliament.

Find out more:

Executive Wing
Parliament Buildings
Telephone: 04 471-9035
Fax: 04 472-3181

This briefing is based on the DPMC Statement of Intent, edited by Anthony Haas, checked by the DPMC and published at on 5 March 2006