Ministerial Staff Numbers

I blogged on Friday how Winston when ranting on about John Key having 36 staff, forgot to mention that in fact those 36 staff support all 48 National MPs, and that it is probably a lower staff:MP ratio than any other party.

Now by coincidence on the same day Winston was having his rant, Ministerial Services published their latest staffing list – as of 22 May 2008. A kind spy has sent me a copy.

As I suspected once again, the number of doctors (media/comms staff) has increased – now up to 43 of them for just 28 Ministers. I can recall the days when it was around 30.

The total number of staff working for Ministers has also increased – there are now 286 of them. Being a bit bored I thought it might be useful to explain different roles to readers and go through and categorise them. I have divided them into five categories.

  1. Managers. Each office has one person in charge of the office. They are normally called the Senior Private Secretary or SPS. For the PM it is the Chief of Staff, and Anderton, Peters and Dunne all use that title now for their senior staffer. The SPS is the key to a well run Ministerial office. They control access to the Minister, co-ordinate the other staff, oversee liaison with Departments and make sure everything runs smoothly for the Minister. A good SPS is worth their weight in gold.

    There tend to be three types of SPS. The neutral professionals who serve any Minister in any Government used to make up all the SPS’s but now are less than half. New Ministers especially are very wise to take on one of these. The second type is similiar and they are the portfolio specific SPS. Sometimes a Department will supply someone to be the Minister’s SPS if if it a very important portfolio like Finance or Foreign Affairs. The third is the political SPS who is there for that Minister only, and are the de factor chief advisor as well as the office manager.

  2. Communicators. In this category are press secretaries and communication advisors. They are the staffers whose primary job is to sell the Minister’s message. I’ve included the Graphic Designer in this category which is maybe a bit unfair, but their job is producing material for communication purposes. Plus when I held a similiar role, the media lumped me in with the doctors so fair’s fair!

    Again there are three types of doctors. A very small number of professional press secretaries who have worked for Governments of all hues. A slightly larger number of ex or recovering journalists who accept the job because it pays more than journalism. They tend to be politically sympathetic to their Minister but not necessarily political with a capital P. The third are the political activists, often with a party background.

  3. Portfolio Advisors. These are normally referred to as Private Secretary (portfolio name) and they deal with all issues around that portfolio for the Minister. The more complex portfolios may also have some Advisors associated with it to help the Minister negotiate purchase agreements etc. Most, but not all, of the portfolio advisors are seconded from their Departments. It can be a mixed blessing. It tends to mark you up for rapid promotion if you do a spell in the Minister’s office, but you can get caught up in power plays between your temporary boss (the Minister) and your normal boss (the CEO). Some of the portfolio advisors have been there for years serving many Governments and Ministers and are jokingly referred to as the real Ministers. They know where all the corpses are buried!
  4. Political Advisors. These are basically political staffers who are not an SPS, or a doctor. They tend to have titles such as Senior Advisor. I’ve also included Executive Assistants as in my experience they tend to be primarily political. These staff tend to most concentrate on the Minister’s political agenda and reputation. To some degree all staff in an office are concerned with this, but these ones specialise. They will often deal with key stakeholders also and be a liaison back to the party.
  5. Administrators. These are the clerical and support staff that actually make things happen. Ministerial Secretaries, Private Secretaries, Electorate Secretaries, Receptionists and in the past Ministerial Clerks. They do the correspondence, the filing (very very important – everything needs to be kept and located when needed), the dealing with calls from the public etc. These are mainly non political but not exclusively. Sometimes they will have worked for the Minister in opposition. Also in the past young political activists might take up one of these roles as an “entry level” role for advancement.

So having described the various categories, how many of each type are there:

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

That’s a total of 286 staff. If I can find someone with a copy of a 1999 directory it would be interesting to see how much it has grown by.

Now which offices have the most staff in each category. They are:

  • Communicators – The has 10, Ministers Anderton and Cunliffe have three each and another five Ministers have two each.
  • Portfolio Advisors – Ruth Dyson has the most with eight portfolio staff – three for Development, and one each for Employment Policy, CYFS, Disability Issues and Comm & Voluntary Sector. Goff and Horomia have seven. Goff has two for Defence, two for Corrections, one for Trade, one for NZT&E and one for Disarmament. Horomia has four for Maori Affairs, and one each for Education, ERO and Social Development. Even the smallest portfolios tend to get their own advisor nowadays with both National Library and National Archives having their own orivate secretary!
  • Political Advisors. The PM has five, two Ministers have three each, and five others have two each.
  • Administrators. The PM has 14 (they have a huge amount of correspondence and records), one Minister has four, five Ministers have three, and 13 Ministers have two.
  • Total Staff. As expected the Pm has the most at 31. Carter and Mallard have 14 each, followed by Anderton and Goff at 13 each. Somehow Cullen survives with only 12 (not many considering his workrate and areas of responsibility) matched by Cosgrove, Dyson and Hodgson.

And who has the least staff:

  • is the only Minister with no doctor.
  • The PM and Mahara Okeroa have only one portfolio advisor each.
  • Okeroa also has the least number of total staff at four. Next lowest at five each are Darren Hughes, and Mita Ririnui

On top of the Ministerial staff, the Government also has the Labour Research Unit which supports backbench Labour MPs. If I get the time I might do a post at some stage on the roles and functions of parliamentary units for non Ministers. And maybe even Electorate Offices. Also one on the role of as many people confuse that with the PMO and they are very different.

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