Public Service Bloat: The Evidence

Dr Bryce Wilkinson
Research Note
22 June, 2023

New Zealanders need a competent, productive, merit-based public service. Those attributes matter for effective government and, thereby, community wellbeing.

New Zealand’s public service employs many competent people. It pays them handsomely by the standards of the median income earner.

Their performance is impaired when the public service is poorly led, ill-structured, or hamstrung by poor quality government. Any or all of those can easily happen.

This research note looks at public service performance overall. It is not about public servants as individuals.

Is New Zealand’s public service bloated, as many have claimed and others have disputed? What is the yardstick, anyway? How competent is it, and in what respects? Is it focused on serving the elected government and the public interest, impartially? To what extent does it now have an agenda of its own, preoccupied with ethnicity, inequality, diversity, gender and ‘the Treaty’?

These questions are topical. New Zealand’s public service has grown hugely under the current government.

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