Should Parliament be exempt from public sector cost cutting?

Newsroom reports:

In a rare, albeit private, criticism of the Government of the day, the Clerk of the House David Wilson told staff in an email last week that new budget cuts would limit the work of Parliament.

The message, obtained by Newsroom, said Wilson received an email from Finance Minister Nicola Willis at the end of last year instructing his office “to make savings of 6.5 percent from the 2024/25 financial year. Vote Office of the Clerk is to be reduced by $1.6 million at the next Budget. All departments [are] required to make similar savings, proportional to their size. …

“The proposed budget reduction will diminish the service we can provide in support of our Parliament. I remain very concerned that the executive can effectively limit the work of the legislature by reducing its funding.”

Dean Knight, a public law professor at Victoria University of Wellington, called the move “deeply worrying.”

“It’s constitutionally concerning that executive government is cutting funding for an institution whose job it is to hold government to account. Democracies like ours cherish the independence of Parliament, especially as our Westminster systems sees some personnel shared between the executive and legislature. The impacts of funding cuts on the separation of powers is obvious,” he said.

This is a valid issue of scrutiny. You do have to be careful that the Exeuctive can’t just cut funding to bodies whose job is to scrutinise the Executive, but on the other hand if the rest of the state sector is having to tighten its belt, a case can be made that it can look hypocritical to exempt parliamentary agencies.

A further Newsroom story also reports:

The Parliamentary Service has been directed to cut spending by 6.5 percent in the next financial year, chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero told staff in an email on Thursday afternoon.

The cuts add up to about $3.5 million, he wrote in the message obtained by Newsroom, which comes on top of existing cost pressures. …

Willis said both agencies would have the opportunity to make their case to ministers about the impact of the budget cuts.

“Departments have been set targets and requested to report back with proposals to make savings. All departments, including the Office of the Clerk, will have the ability to set out their rationale for their proposals, as well as any risks and trade-offs including impacts on their role,” she told Newsroom.

“Ministers and Cabinet will make final decisions on whether to accept those proposals as part of Budget 2024. The Coalition Government is committed to getting Government expenditure under control.” …

“The savings exercise commissioned by Cabinet applies to all departments. It is intended to restore fiscal discipline to the public service and get Government expenditure under control after several years of significant growth across the public sector without corresponding improvement in outcomes,” Willis said.

“I note that both the Office of the Clerk and Parliamentary Service were included in the baseline savings exercise initiated by the previous Government in August last year.”

This is interesting in that both agencies were also asked by the Labour Government to reduce spending, so their cries that this is terrible are somewhat hollow.

But there is still a need for caution. Ideally the Speaker and/or the Officers of Parliament committee would come to an agreement with the Minister of Finance as to how much spending can be reduced without impacting the key functions of both agencies.

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