Friday, February 23, 2018

Bravo Bryce

Bryce Wilkinson from the New Zealand Initiative writes:

When I was a lad, Treasury was a home for bean counters. Many a fine public servant did an accounting degree part-time at evening classes at Vic. Full-time study was unaffordable; they needed a day job for income.

They knew their day job. It was to run a surgical eye over departmental spending proposals. Noes were more satisfying than Ayes. Noes could help a minister of finance keep the budget healthy. Noes saved ‘the country’ money.

The proportion of Noes that won the day in Cabinet was a measure of one’s batting average.

They wrote short, incisive reports with recommendations based on a few well-chosen facts, knowledge, and experience. Cabinet deadlines were tight. A succinct one-page report was good. It would be read. A longer one might not be.

Looking back, one has to feel sorry for these investigating officers. The poor chaps never had a chance in these short reports to muse about such lofty matters as intergenerational wellbeing.

Happily, today’s Treasury is not so constrained by cold-hearted value-for-money considerations. Your and my wellbeing and that of our children and their future children are ever closer to its throbbing heart.

This week it added to the warming embrace by releasing four discussion documents on its wellbeing framework. Treasury wants “government agencies to be more cohesive so public policy on wellbeing, spending and other government interventions is aligned with improving intergenerational wellbeing”.

At long last the public service will overcome its silo tendencies. We look forward to seeing agencies graciously deferring to each other: “No, please cut our budget to help you expand yours, what you are doing is more important for intergenerational wellbeing”.

The Treasury old-timers probably never conceived that this might be possible.  One can almost imagine them applauding in unison from their graves.

It is comforting to know that the public service will be focusing on how much you want to cut back on your spending to bequeath more to the next generation. You won’t need to think about that for yourself as much.

Perhaps the day will come when the sign outside Treasury, coined from a Christchurch art exhibit, reads: The House of Wellbeing, Resilience and Sustainability: All Welcome, bar Bean Counters.

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