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

A development goal of the State Services Commission is that by June 2010 citizens will find the "right doors in the right places". This means government agencies work together to coordinate the availability of services across the country using co-location, joint services and management of different physical and electronic channels.

Another goal is that, also by June 2010, the operations of government will have been transformed through the use of the internet.

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. Former State Services Commissioner 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.

Development goals - focus

The State Services Commissioner, Mark Prebble, appointed in 2004, released a set of Development Goals for the State Services in 2005 following new State sector legislation to sharpen focus on the performance of New Zealand's State Services.

"A well performing State Services can make a huge difference - to New Zealand's success as a country and to the people that make up our communities. More than 190,000 people work in the State Services. This is 13 percent of the workforce so it is important that we are all focused on a common set of goals" Mark Prebble said.

"Over the last couple of decades there have been a series of reforms of the State Services. The positive aspects of these reforms are known - including increased transparency, accountability, efficiency and better service in many areas. More recent reforms have placed greater emphasis on results and the way in which government agencies work together.

"The conclusion of the work programme of the 2001 Review of the Centre, and the recent passage of new State sector legislation have signalled a change in direction for the State Services and enabled the formation of an overarching set of goals.

"The Development Goals have been agreed by the Government. They are designed to encourage coordination amongst the multitude of government agencies that make up the State Services and outline the future direction for the sector.

"This direction is focused on improving the overall performance of the State Services to ensure the system can meet the needs of New Zealanders, whilst serving the government of the day.

"The work on improving the State Services will never be complete, however the goals signal our direction for the next four years.

"A high-level Advisory Committee on State Services, primarily comprised of chief executives, will provide momentum and support for the associated goals work programme. The Advisory Committee will meet quarterly, and will be chaired by the State Services Commissioner," Mark Prebble said.

Development Goals - overall goal
The foundations for a change are in place. The focus for this change will be determined by a new set of Development Goals for the State Services.

These goals do not outline what the State Services will achieve (such as support for families), as that is a matter for government policy. Rather, the goals are aspirations for how the State Services will be arranged and perform. Some of the goals impact more on Public Service departments and Crown agents, and others are wider in scope.

The State Services Commission, with support from the other central agencies and agreement from the Government, launched the Development Goals in March 2005.

The overall goal for the State Services is:

A system of world class professional State Services serving the government of the day and meeting the needs of New Zealanders.

For New Zealanders to lead healthy and satisfying lives, they need quality services delivered by highly professional government agencies. For government agencies to be world class, they need the best possible systems and the best possible staff, operating with high levels of integrity.

This goal cannot be achieved by agencies working in isolation. For the State Services to work well for New Zealanders, then agencies must work closely together.

Six specific goals
The overarching goal is supported by six, more specific, Development Goals for the State Services.

The six goals work together to support each other and collectively contribute towards strengthening the degree of trust New Zealanders have in the State Services.

If the State Services is considered a great place to work (goal 1) and offers constant development of staff (goal 2), then good people will want to work and stay in government agencies. If State Services agencies are well connected to each other and to citizens (goal 3), and better coordinated to improve their overall performance (goal 4), then New Zealanders will get better services from agencies which meet their needs (goal 5). This good service, provided in an open and honest way, will improve New Zealanders' trust in the State Services (goal 6).

Goal 1: Employer of choice
Ensure the State Services is an employer of choice attractive to high achievers with a commitment to service.

By June 2007: A comprehensive guide to good employment practice developed with input from State Services employers and unions, in place for use across government agencies.

By June 2010: Measurable improvement in the proportion of talented job seekers aspiring to join the State Services.

Goal 2: Excellent state servants
Develop a strong culture of constant learning in the pursuit of excellence.

By June 2007: A framework for learning and development across government agencies.

By June 2010: All government agencies have a strong commitment to developing skills and knowledge across all staff.

Goal 3: Networked state servants
Use technology to transform the provision of services for New Zealanders.

By June 2007: Networks and Internet technologies are integral to the delivery of government information, services and processes.

By June 2010: The operation of government has been transformed through the use of the Internet.

Goal 4: Coordinated state agencies
Ensure the total contribution of government agencies is greater than the sum of its parts.

By 2007: Government agencies demonstrating improvement through Managing for Outcomes, including joint outcomes and other shared accountabilities across clusters of agencies.

By 2010: Measurable results are evident from the joint pursuit of joint outcomes.

Goal 5: Accessible state services
Enhance access, responsiveness and effectiveness, and improve New Zealanders' experience of State Services.

By June 2007: No wrong door - any New Zealander accessing government services will be referred appropriately to the organisation best able to address their concerns.

By June 2010: Right doors in the right places - government agencies work together to coordinate the availability of services across the country using co-location, joint services and management of different physical and electronic channels.

Goal 6: Trusted state services
Strengthen trust in the State Services, and reinforce the spirit of service.

By June 2007: Agencies of the State Services demonstrate their commitment to earning trust by working with the State Services Commissioner to develop and promote codes of conduct.

By June 2010: Measurable improvement in New Zealanders' trust in the agencies of the State Services.

Legislative base

Amendments to the State Sector Act, which came into effect on 25 January 2005, expanded the role of the State Services Commissioner in the State Services.

This is central to strengthening integration, building capability and providing stronger leadership on values and standards in the State sector. It also makes provision for better developing future leaders of the State sector.

The Public Finance (State Sector Management) Bill was developed in response to the recommendations of the 2001 Review of the Centre.

This Public Finance (State Sector Management) legislation was split into the Public Finance Amendment Act 2004, State Sector Amendment Act (No2), 2004 Crown Entities Act 2004 State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act 2004

The new statutes encompass:Amendments to the Public Finance Act , including incorporating the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Strengthening these fundamentally sound acts by improving the flexibility for the Executive in managing public finances, while retaining and improving accountability mechanisms to Parliament.

Creation of a new Crown Entities Act. Improving Crown entity governance and accountability is central to achieving better alignment between agencies and government objectives. It also strengthens whole of government - with the better integration of Crown entities into the rest of the State sector.

What are Crown entities?

Crown entities have various forms - statutory bodies or corporations (such as the Accident Compensation Corporation and the New Zealand Film Commission), companies (such as Radio New Zealand Limited and the nine Crown Research Institutes) and some are sole member entities (such as the Commissioner for Children).

There are approximately 2,630 Crown entities in total - about 2,500 School Boards of Trustees, and about 130 Crown entities of other forms (excluding subsidiaries). The relationship of Crown entities with the Crown ranges from close to distant.

Crown entities are normally established under their own empowering legislation.

Improving the governance of Crown entities is important to improve performance. Establishing a clearer relationship between Crown entities and Ministers will enhance accountability, which in turn will lead to improved performance and achievement of Government's outcomes.

Addressing fragmentation

An important issue for the Review of the Centre was fragmentation in the State sector. The Review recommended a range of initiatives to address fragmentation and improve alignment of State sector agencies with the Government's objectives.

A major recommendation was to improve the governance of Crown entities, with particular attention to improving the clarity of relationships between Ministers, departments and Crown entities, and strengthening those elements of the public management system that enable whole-of-government action.

Classes of Entities
The Act creates distinct categories and types of Crown entity.

Crown Agents (Agents): statutory Crown entities that have a close working relationship with the government of the day - e.g., District Health Boards are Crown Agents.
Autonomous Crown Entities (ACE); statutory Crown entities that do not need to have a high degree of ministerial control but are still required to have regard to the policy of the government of the day - e.g., the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is an ACE.

Independent Crown Entities (ICE): statutory Crown entities that operate at arm's length from the government, either because they are quasi-judicial or because they must operate, and must be seen to operate, independently - e.g. the Electoral Commission and the Human Rights Commission are ICEs.
Crown-entity companies which are established under the Companies Act. The nine Crown Research Institutes are Crown-entity companies.

School Boards of Trustees are a separate category of Crown entity.

Tertiary education institutions are a separate category of Crown entity. Standard governance requirements for each class are established - such as appointment and removal of board members. Ministers' power to direct a individual Crown entity depends on the entity's category - for example, a Crown Agent is required to give effect to direction on Government policy in its area of business. Ministers have no power to direct any Crown entity on its statutorily independent functions.

Responsible Ministers and Crown entity governing bodies.
A Responsible Minister has the power to direct individual Agents and ACEs on government policy in the entity's general area of business. A Crown Agent will give effect to that direction, and an Autonomous Crown entity (ACE) will have regard to it.

Accountability of the governing body is to the Responsible Minister. Appointment and dismissal provisions differentiate among categories of Crown entity. For example, the governing body members of a Crown Agent are appointed by a Minister and serve at the pleasure of the Minister.

Crown entity governing bodies are subject to generic provisions setting out their individual duties, good employer and EEO provisions, and collective duties.

Enhancing people and culture

The State Services Commissioner's mandate in respect of Crown entities is clarified by the State Sector Amendment Act (No2) 2004. The Commissioner has a more specific mandate to set minimum standards of integrity and conduct to apply to Crown entities.

Financial Management and Reporting for Crown entities.
The Crown Entities Act ensures better quality and more balanced reporting of Crown entity intentions and actual performance, with more attention to outcomes.

The Statement of Intent becomes the centrepiece of the accountability relationship to government.

Investment, borrowing and derivatives provisions establish a consistent approach between entities and powers appropriate for their circumstances.

A letter of expectations from the Responsible Minister will clarify and strengthen the Board's understanding of the Minister's expectations of the Board and the entity. Crown entities will continue to prepare an annual report, including a Statement of Service Performance.

SSC senior management team

The State Services Commissioner established a senior management team in 2005 responsible for driving the development programme for New Zealand's State Services. Four new Deputy Commissioner positions were created to support this programme.

A central and shared aspect of these four roles is State Services leadership. As members of the senior team, the Deputy Commissioners are expected to contribute to the overall performance of the State Services Commission (SSC). In addition each position has three main areas of
responsibility: leading a team of functional experts, performance and relationship management of a number of Public Service chief executives, and a regional liaison role.

The Deputy Commissioners are accountable for providing exemplary and inspirational leadership to the SSC and the State Services, building a culture of professionalism, ambition and energy in pursuit of the development of the State Services. They must develop excellent relationships with chief executives of Public Service departments and Crown entities. As individuals they must maintain the highest standards of personal integrity and model and promote such standards throughout the SSC and the State Services.

Information and communication technologies
The Deputy Commissioner, Information and Communication Technologies leads a branch responsible for delivering the Government's vision for e-government, that is, to use information and communication technologies across the State Services to improve the way services are delivered to New Zealanders. Thise Deputy Commissioner is also responsible for advice and monitoring of government investments in IT systems and associated knowledge management matters and the provision of various cross-government e-government operational services. The Deputy Commissioner needs the ability to manage large and complex programmes of work that have a significant impact on New Zealanders' access to State Services.

Leading a centre of excellence on public sector administration, the Deputy Commissioner, Governance, is expected to ensure well-researched, high quality advice is available to the SSC and to public sector agencies. This Deputy Commissioner is the principal advisor on governance matters including the relationships between departments and Crown entities, and good practice matters for boards and staff of Crown entities. The role leads a team providing advice on relationships between government agencies and non-government organisations, including ethics and contract management. An in-depth knowledge and experience in public administration, including knowledge of the constitution and public management practice is required for the role.

People capability
The Deputy Commissioner, People Capability is responsible for delivering on long-term strategies for capability improvement within the public sector. This role is to foster a strong culture of constant learning to enable the best talent to be available for the future; including a sharp focus on the development of future leaders and a programme to attract high achievers into a State Services career.

The Deputy Commissioner, Development, role leads a branch focused on providing an overview of the State Services, including government agencies' activities and their effects on New Zealanders. This includes programmes to enhance access, responsiveness and effectiveness, and improve New Zealanders' experience of State Services.

The branch provides expertise for the SSC in the assessment of interactions of New Zealanders with the State Services. This requires the development of a research function and an oversight of regional liaison issues, including liaison with local government and non-government organisations.

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.

Updated 6 December 2005