Trevor agrees with me

In April I blogged:

This means you could have a cabinet of 12. The Speaker looks after Parliament, and one Minister per major agency. One could have associate ministers outside cabinet who get delegated some of the specialist areas within an overall portfolio.

Yesterday Trevor Mallard blogged:

New Zealand has a ridiculous number of Ministers for a country our size.

It had got slightly worse under MMP but this government has taken it beyond absurd with 80% of the non National confidence and supply partner members bought off with a Ministerial post, and the final one on a promise of getting one during the term.

It would have been nice to have Trevor speak up when he had influence. I’ve long said we should have a smaller Ministry. It was in fact Helen Clark who increased the size of the Executive to 28. Key has just maintained it at that size.

I spent three years as a whip which included cabinet committee experience in the 1980s and the nine years as a Minister in the Clark government.

I saw lots of weak, and some frankly useless Ministers. Most, but not all, were in the second half of the rankings. They often caused more work than they added value. There was an enormous amount of time wasted explaining what was either obvious or buried in papers that if they had been read hadn’t been understood.

Trevor should name names! 🙂

I tend to divide Ministers up into three camps – leaders, administrators and bumblers.

The ideal Minister leads their portfolio and ministry. They impose the Government’s policy agenda on the ministry, listen to officials but do not always follow their advice. The number of “leader” Ministers in a Ministry does tend to be rarely more than a dozen.

Hence why I’d restructure the state sector into 12 super-ministries as advocated in my linked post. That way each super-ministry is likely to have a “leader” Minister who will apply strategic leadership to the portfolios within. Also there are probably only a dozen great CEOs in the state sector, so you get benefits at the CEO level also. Finally it reduces Cabinet from 20 to 12, which makes it a more effective decision making body.

The “administrator” Minister is probably the most common type of Minister. Unlike Trevor I would not call them useless. Their problem is more they just do what their officials tell them to. They do not apply external political judgement to issues, and hence as Trevor alludes to they need rescuing from time to time.

If there were just 12 Ministers in total, I think the paperwork would be too much. It is not that Ministers are not busy. Hence I’d have all full portfolios held by one of 12 Cabinet Ministers but maybe still have say eight Associate Ministers outside Cabinet who get delegated specific areas. This makes them a good training ground for becoming a full Minister, but still reduces the Ministry by eight or so.

I think we don’t need more than ten or a dozen Ministers. They should all be in Cabinet. And to trial talent we should use three or four Under Secretaries who report directly to the relevant Minister.

We broadly agree, but I’d call the Under-Secretaries Associate Ministers. Maybe could do it like the UK – Secretaries of State are full Ministers in Cabinet and Ministers of State are Ministers outside Cabinet.

It will be interesting if any of Trevor’s former Ministerial colleagues agree with his description of them as useless.  To spare the competent ones, he should name those he meant!

More importantly, he should lobby David Shearer to announce a policy to reduce the Ministry from 28 to 12 Ministers. That would be hugely popular.

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