The growth in Ministerial staff numbers

May 29th, 2008 at 9:15 am by David Farrar

I blogged on Monday a summary of the numbers as of May 2008. They were:

  1. 28 Managers
  2. 45 Communicators
  3. 111 Portfolio Advisors
  4. 35 Political Advisors
  5. 56 Administrators
  6. 286 Total Staff

This was to put into context the nonsense from Winston Peters about National having 36 staff (excluding the parliamentary secretary each MP gets) in the leader’s office to support its 48 MPs.

Now I mused out loud that it would be interesting to compare this to 1999, if someone had kept a copy of an old staff list. Well I am pleased to report that several readers are hoarders of such lists – one in fact having every list back to the 1980s! So I now have a copy of the June 1999 Ministerial staff list.

Now what were staff numbers in 1999 and how have they changed in eight years?

  1. Managers – up from 23 to 28 (22% increase)
  2. Communicators (spin doctors) – up from 26 to 45 (a whopping 73% increase)
  3. Portfolio Advisors – up from 62 to 111 (a 79% increase)
  4. Political Advisors – up from 25 to 35 (40% increase)
  5. Administrators – up from 52 to 67 (29% increase)
  6. Total Staff – up from 188 to 286 (52% increase)

So under Labour they have increased total staff in Ministerial Offices by 52%, and spin doctors by 73%.

Oh and in case you were wondering about numbers in the Opposition Leader’s Office, a handy reader also has a July 1999 staff list for Helen Clark’s office. And Helen had 30 staff for 37 MPs. That is 0.81 staff per MP. While that terrible John Key has 36 staff for 38 48 MPs which is 0.75 staff per MP.

One could argue that as the number of Ministers has increased from 23 to 28, one should look at staff per Minister. First of all even if one accepts this premise there has still been a massive increase in staff numbers.

But the number of Ministers is decided by the PM, and can be as small or large as she wants. The number of MPs is basically set at 120, and if one party gains more MPs, then there are less MPs elsewhere and total staffing numbers tends to stay the same. In fact MPs are bulk funded for most costs (excludes travel and phones) so their staff numbers have to be affordable within a limited budget.

Ministers are different. The Government sets the budget for Ministerial Services in their annual budget so can be as high or low as they want. Vote Ministerial Services has increased $12.7 million from 1999/00.

Hopefully John Key’s freeze on total number of civil servants will include Ministerial staff. 286 seems more than enough. Personally I would have a significantly smaller Executive – but that is a topic for another day.

32 Responses to “The growth in Ministerial staff numbers”

  1. bearhunter (837 comments) says:

    “And Helen had 30 staff for 37 MPs. That is 0.81 staff per MP. While that terrible John Key has 36 staff for 38 MPs which is 0.75 staff per MP”

    That doesn’t make a skerrick of sense. Are you sure those figures are right?

    [DPF: I had a typo – National has 48 MPs]

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  2. unaha-closp (1,604 comments) says:

    Typo 7 for 9?

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  3. side show bob (3,476 comments) says:

    You would think that we as a country might enjoy the very best in government given the saff employed. But sadly no, it seems to me that every waster employed by the socialists drags this country deeper into the mire. It’s long past time this bullshit came to an end. If the tosspots in power have something decent to say or a well throught out policy to implyment it should stand alone, why the fuck do we as a people vote every 3 years for a government that doesn’t have the balls to say and do what it believes without hundreds of wasters holding their hands.

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  4. dad4justice (7,905 comments) says:

    This is your typical appalling abuse of power by a selfish and conceited supreme leader, who is at the end of her run. She is hell bent on “Absolute Power” at all costs. I do wonder how many of those spin-doctors and the 111 advisory club freaks are active on the Internet? Some people are getting attacked big time by some malicious Internet wacko’s, and could it be coming from spin-doctors working inside the corrupt liarbour washing machine? It is a fair question, I mean to say labours track record, slavery charges, fist fights in Parliament and a PM above the law of the land. This is bloody disgusting and a total slap in the face to the dignity of every sane kiwi constituent and tax paying struggling family. Labour are vile role models.
    Liarbour pumps out continuous dirty laundry 24/7 with an army of twisted indoctrinated socialist scumbags.

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  5. ghostwhowalks3 (387 comments) says:

    National in 25% bureaucrat blowout ! Thats whats buried somewhere.

    [No National has fewer per MP while Labour has had far more per Minister. You really can’t handle this thing called mathematics can you?]

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  6. big bruv (15,570 comments) says:

    Ahh..Ghost comes rushing in to defend dear leader….

    Scene: 9.15am, our “hero” ghost is tucked up warm and cosy in bed, suddenly the phone rings…

    GWW: Hello
    H2: What are you doing?
    GWW: Sleeping
    H2: You don’t have time for that, how many times have I told you that the needs of the party come before your own selfish wants, anyway, that bastard Farrar has posted more lies about Helen, you need to get on line and throw them off the scent.
    GWW: Right….can I ask what the lies are?
    H2: The bastard is on about the growth in ministerial staff numbers since we came to power.
    GWW: But thats true isn’t it?
    H2: Of course it is you idiot but that not the point.
    GWW: Yeah ok..any suggestions on how I should handle this?
    H2: For fuck sake, do I have to do everything around here, just do what you usually do, introduce some type of red herring, do bloody anything for gods sake just throw the bastards off the scent.
    GWW: OK, leave it to me
    H2: I wish I bloody could, remember your future employment could well depend on you handle things like this, we cannot afford to have the public asking reasonable questions when there is so much more we need to do.
    GWW: Christ! it that vital?
    H2: You bloody bet it is.
    GWW: Right then, I suppose I have free license , I assume that I need not worry with the truth.
    H2: Of course not you fool, the last thing we want is the public finding out the truth.
    GWW: Consider it done.
    H2: Good, now I have to go, Mike Williams..I mean Irish Bill is have a few problems over at the Standard that I need to sort out, that man will be the death of me…

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  7. Brian (Shadowfoot) (74 comments) says:

    We need bulk funding for parliament.

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  8. Pascal (1,412 comments) says:

    I think I’ve figured Ghost Who Walks out. He’s not a real human being, he’s a Turing test bot. What it does is Googles the weightiest words of a post, parses the results and then inverts that. The words are then shuffled and regurgitated as a blog comment.

    This is why he’s always on the opposite side of the truth.

    It is a technical marvel though, I mean – look at how many responses he gets to his drivel!

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  9. Steve Withers (100 comments) says:

    “But sadly no, it seems to me that every waster employed by the socialists drags this country deeper into the mire.”

    It’s talk like this, denigrating all public servants, that makes National and its supporters look like very poor people managers. Who would want to work for political leadership that ASSUMES what you’re doing is a useless waste?

    Arbitrary measures like caps on the public service are simplistic and fail to demonstrate any real understanding of what the public service does. Facile presumptions, made from a position of ignorance, that this program or that program are “a waste” are merely signs that the people making the claim are lazy and inclined to prejudice. How can any rational person trust such people?

    National and its supporters need to grow up. Work that needs doing needs people to do it and that costs money. Government is always tricky because many of the things it does – almost by definition – can’t be businesses. There is business model for getting inside te head of a offender and making them stop offending. There is no business plan for reducing or stopping drug addiction, preventing illness, or identifying and assisting those among us who can’t – for whatever reason – live independent lives. Just a few of a myriad of areas where government – of any ideological stripe – plays the central role and people who care about and are motivated by things other than money apply their energy, vision and values to the problem at hand.

    Public servants aren’t allowed to answer back. Bullying them as a group by describing them as useless wasters dragging the country into the mire says more about the ignorant person uttering such nonsense than about the people being denigrated ad abused by it.

    I have no issue with Key or Clark or any Minister hiring enough people to get the job done that they deem needs doing. Tat’s what we elect them to do. That includes paying for David Farrar (if we are) who by all accounts does an effective job. Good on you, Dave. Money well spent. Job well done. A stoker feeding the engine of debate in our democracy.

    [DPF: I am not paid in any way whatsoever for my blogging. o the contrary it costs me a lot of money.

    And frankly you attitude with *my* money about hiring enough staff to get the job done is not one you would have if it was all your own money. I now I employ close to 100 staff.

    Ministerial staff have gone up by over 50% and spin doctors by around 75%, yet you are happy to write blank cheques. Any intelligent analysis would be based on has the job got more complex that requires 50% more staff? Has the workload increased 50%? What extra value does one get for that 50%?

    Of course when you spend someone else’s money, you don’t bother to ask that]

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  10. artemisia (523 comments) says:

    Does anyone know the process by which additional public service staff positions are established these days? Hard to believe it is just – Well we have a few bucks in the budget so let’s hire more people. I’m assuming that there is a process with some rigour around it even if not much.

    I recall the early to mid 1980s in the public service, the days of the staff ceilings. There were across the board departmental budget cuts each year, leading to a lowering of the staff ceiling. Any increase in the ceiling had to be approved at a high level and for new policy only. So it was probably a Cabinet decision. The staff ceiling process was managed centrally by the State Services Commission. Bureaucratic perhaps, but remarkably effective.

    Later in the 1980s the State Services Commission designed and oversaw the implementation of a huge reshuffle of the public sector, which led to a large number (thousands) of positions being disestablished. It was visionary, difficult, tough on many people, but again, effective.

    National could usefully produce a similar bold vision, and I would suggest they find some of those involved in the 1980s exercise and ask a lot of questions.

    It is a maxim in management speak that there is 30% waste in every process. Now that would be a useful ruler to wave over the public service.

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  11. JSF2008 (422 comments) says:

    Fuck ,its a BIG business, WHAT THE HELL DO THEY ALL DO ?????? John

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  12. side show bob (3,476 comments) says:

    Steve Withers, it looks like I have pissed you off, I’m sorry if I offened you but my God man look at the figures at the top of the page. If you can justify this many public servants then you would have no problem dancing on the head of a pin. How can you justify a staff of 286 for ministers and this is for Liarbore alone, when we only have a tiny country?. Do you honestly believe we are getting value for money given the current state of the country?. Presumably you do so we will probably have to beg to differ. Take the up comming power crisis, you seem to have more advisors then you can poke a bloody stick at so why are we heading up shit creek again. Either your advisors are not a worth tin of shit or those they advise are as thick as two short planks. I’m sorry to be so hard but from where I stand I think we are well and truly getting shaffed. You say public servants are not aloud to answer back, well join the the club Steve, we answer back but no one fucking listens so I guess we are in the same boat.

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  13. Steve Withers (100 comments) says:

    DPF: Thanks for commenting in reply. I’m not advocating blank cheques by any stretch. What I am criticising is the facile presumption of massive waste from a position of ignorance. I’m also criticising the abuse heaped on people who largely don’t deserve it and aren’t allowed to respond to it. What sounded like a bank cheque was simply my own willingness to let the people we elect get on with the job. I do expect them to NOT waste money. At the same time I am not going to assume they are. I hope you can see the difference there.

    Side show bob: No offence taken. I was using your abuse of public servants generally to make a point. I could have picked a line from any of a number of other similarly abusive posts by others on this thread or other threads…..which was sorta my point. If you have a detailed example of waste: bring it on. But don’t dump on all public servants just because. Is there waste out there? Absolutely, and a lot of it is people turning up for work feeling abused and unappreciated by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. I’ve had good managers and bad managers over the past 35 years. The best make you feel valued and you work like a dog. The worst make you feel like shit and you can’t be arsed lifting a finger to make them look good. The gap between two represents real waste of present value and potential value. You and others, including National party spokespeople, would be terrible managers talking about your employees as you do and as they do. That was my point. “Waste” takes many forms…and has many causes. Bad management is a huge source of waste…and it starts at the top and attitude counts.

    For what it’s worth, I’m enjoying the opportunity to discuss how public servants are abused as a matter of course. Almost like a ritual. It has an effect. A bad one. It’s an aspect of the debate I have not heard addressed by anyone, but in my experience it makes a huge difference.

    [DPF: You should not generalise. Firstly I am an employer and a manager and know more than most people about the importance of valuing staff. Secondly I have often praised civil servants such as the new SSC. But there is no doubt there is now huge wastage in the civil service. What do I say this? Civil servants tell me – frustrated by how much there is]

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  14. PaulL (6,060 comments) says:

    Steve, you may expect them to NOT waste your money, but I’m interested in why you would think that they are doing what you expect. All the evidence most of us can see points to government expenditure and government taxes (the two aren’t aligned due to the surplus – now spent) growing faster than the economy as a whole. But the metrics show that in the core delivery agencies, there isn’t more work being done (not more operations in hospitals, not more children being taught in schools etc etc).

    So, my question to you. You expect them not to waste your money. But they are spending an awful lot more of it than they used to, and services delivered hasn’t increased. Do you implicitly trust that they are not wasting your money, or might you have a look see. Or perhaps elect someone to do that for you – the current lot say there is no issue, but the metrics suggest there is. The new lot say that they have real concerns, and they are going to take a look. Remember, this is your money they are spending – could be $40 a week coming right back to you if it turns out they are wasting your money. $2,000 a year. What could you do with that??

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  15. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    Most Public Servants are a waste.

    If Public Servants feel denigrated then maybe they should take the hint and go find a real job in the private sector that actually contributes something to the New Zealand economy. It’s ironic that Public Servants find themselves in a fiscally better position than their private sector counterparts. Private sector employee can look forward to a tiny tax cut later this year. Public Servants will not only receive this tax cut, but in effect they are negative tax payers. Their income is derived from the tax take. Their lifestyles are subsidized 100% by taxpayers and yet they don’t produce anything of value. They are a deadweight loss to the New Zealand economy.

    Work that needs doing needs people that a capable of delivering it. Those people are not in the public sector. If the works needs doing at all the first port of call is to look to the private sector to deliver it. If you want something done, the last place you want to look to is the Government. It’s just incapable of delivering any output in a productive, efficient manner. There tends to be to types of people in the public sector, rent seekers who turning up to their place of employment to collect their cheques and lifers. Rent seekers eventually get sick of working in the corrosive work environment of the public sector and move on. Lifers are institutionalized and the only way they will be moved on is if they are restructured out of their position and not given any alternative position within the public sector. Both types end up being low quality employees. Some always were low quality employees and others are made that way by the environment that is the public sector.

    What needs to happen for the advancement of New Zealand is for the Public Sector to be shrunk dramatically. It won’t even be a difficult job for John Key to achieve. The first point of action once he gets into power in November this year is to freeze the recruitment of staff into the public sector. With 30% turnover in staff a year, by the time national go to the polls again in 2011 the public sector will be a shadow of its former self. National will then be able to deliver more tax cuts to ordinary, hard working, productive New Zealanders.

    Tax Cuts, it’s the future.

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  16. PaulL (6,060 comments) says:

    OECD Kiwi. Two types of people on this blog. Those who can spell and those who cannot. 🙂

    There are actually good people in the public service, and many of them do a damn good job. There are also a quite high proportion of people who are less good, and there is much less incentive to get rid of them than in a private sector. Further, as any private sector organisation knows, you get rid of low performers when times are tight, when business is booming you tend not to notice them as you try to grow as fast as you can. So public sector naturally has a higher proportion of low quality staff, plus in public service terms times have been very good, so nobody has been managed out.

    The problem with your plan is that the people who leave when you start cutting are the good ones. So under your plan we tighten the screws (causing the good people to leave) and prohibit hiring anyone new to try and get talent. And that freeze on hiring means you aren’t going to fire the poor performers, because you cannot replace them and at least they do some work. Pretty sure I won’t be going to a public hospital after your plan has been in place for a couple of years.

    I can easily agree there is a lot of wastage, but I’m not going to agree to a stupid idea about how to fix it.

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  17. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    As Ronald Reagan said:

    “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”.

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  18. PaulL (6,060 comments) says:

    Yep. Seen plenty of government departments, seen all of them doing things that weren’t what was intended. Seen plenty of stupid business cases that overstate the benefits and understate the costs. Standard fare in government. Also seen a lot of people doing really good work that needs to be done in our society. We need to find a way to have more of the latter, less of the former.

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  19. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    I’ve known a few “good” (i.e. competent) public sector employees. I can’t say I know why they would freely choose to work in the public sector.

    There are very few areas in our society that the Government needs to be involved in. Justice and Defense would be two of them. At the present time in human evolution there isn’t an alternative to these two areas of Government provision. Health and Education on the other hand can be provided exclusively by the private sector.

    So let’s get to it.

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  20. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    Now the Government is rolling out an extra week’s leave to Public Servants who have been in the job at least five years.

    What the hell?

    The public sector gets five weeks annual leave so you don’t have to. It’s waste on waste on waste.

    Labour is taking the Michael.

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  21. expat (4,089 comments) says:

    What category do the stoolies at the Sub-standard come under?

    They’re certainly not managers, not communicators, I wouldn’t take their political or portfolio advice unless I was retarded, so I guess the Sub-standard commies are administrators. Yes, administrators; officious jobsworths, just right for Stevie and Billy.

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  22. expat (4,089 comments) says:

    Bureaucrat, is that a synonym for Adminstrator?

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  23. big bruv (15,570 comments) says:

    I note that the latest Labour election year bribe for public servants is five (YES, FIVE) weeks annual leave plus the normal statutory holidays.

    I am sick of this corrupt govt spending MY money to steal elections.

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  24. artemisia (523 comments) says:

    Example of waste in the public sector:

    Rotorua Anti Violence Centre Forced to Close – No funding for people who voluntarily attend anti violence centre, despite high profile govt campaign that ‘its not okay’.

    Audio here:

    Pretty sure the interview mentioned the cost of the current anti violence campaign as $14 million.

    There was another group in a similar situation.

    Worth a listen.

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  25. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    Bernard Hickey has done a few good pieces over on his stuff blog “Show me the money” on the waste in Government. It covers similar areas to that of David’s post although looking at areas of waste over all Government departments.

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  26. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    Kevin Rudd has some brilliant comments regarding Public Servants. The Public Servants over in Australia were having a bitch and a moan about how he has turned their lives into a “nightmare” through overwork.

    Kevin’s response:

    “I understand that there has been some criticism around the edges that some public servants are finding the hours a bit much, Well, I suppose I’ve simply got news for the public service — there’ll be more.”

    John Key should “me too” this right away.

    Can we dream the dream of a “Stalag John” later this year?

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  27. expat (4,089 comments) says:

    Accountability for delivery of services?

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  28. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    Or delivery of services by other means.

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  29. expat (4,089 comments) says:

    ye gads man! you cannae deliver gummint service besides through gummint departments! Are ye mad man!

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  30. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,947 comments) says:

    Talking of Klingons, what has Jonathan Hunt got planned career wise at the end of the year?

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  31. expat (4,089 comments) says:

    wine and cheese meister in exile?

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  32. icount (1 comment) says:

    To see a reduction in ministerial staff why not take a look at

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