State Services Commission

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State Services Commission
Te Komihana O Ngā Tari Kāwanatanga
Agency overview
Formed 1913
Preceding Agency Public Service Commission
Jurisdiction New Zealand
Headquarters Lvl 10, Reserve Bank Bldg,
2 The Terrace,
Annual budget Vote State Services
Total budget for 2014/15
Minister responsible Hon Paula Bennett
- Minister of State Services
Agency executive Iain Rennie
- State Services Commissioner
Key documents Statement of Intent 2010-2015
Annual Report 2010

The State Services Commission (SSC) (Māori: Te Komihana O Ngā Tari Kāwanatanga) is the central public service department of New Zealand charged with overseeing, managing, and improving the performance of the State sector of New Zealand and it's organisations. The Commission's overarching goal, as described in the SSC statement of intent is "to provide leadership to the State Services so that government works better for New Zealanders."[2] This is documented more fully in the State Sector Amendment Act 2013 which sets out the role of the State Services Commissioner, who heads the Commission.[3]


The State Services Commission was originally known as the Public Service Commission (PSC). This was established in 1912 to protect the Public Service from political interference following scandals over nepotism in public-sector employment in New Zealand's colonial past.[4] Historians describe the underlying principle guiding the PSC as 'the merit principle' arguing that since then, public servants have been appointed on the basis of their ability to do the job, rather than any political or other considerations.[5]

As the population of New Zealand trebled over the next 50 years, the role of Government expanded and the number of state servants went from 4,918 to 39,611.[6] In 1961, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake decided it was time to review the Government's role and set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the State Services. The Commission made 131 recommendations most of which were incorporated into the State Services Act of 1962. This established the State Services Commission (SSC) as the government inspectorate on departmental efficiency. In 1963 Holyoake appointed himself as the first Minister of State Services.[7]

In the 1970s, the Labour Government began to express disenchantment with the growing bureaucracy and its new trend of managing public relations using departmental spokespeople to comment in the media. Incoming Prime Minister Norman Kirk said "the virus of empire building lies dormant in every vein..." and that he was tired of reading the views of people "paid to serve being expressed as if they were elected to govern".[8] Labour won the election in 1984 and the Finance Minister, Roger Douglas, pushed ahead with a radical restructuring that fundamentally altered the size and nature of the State sector. Government agencies which earned income were stripped of their social objectives and turned into profit-making corporations like New Zealand Post and Tranzrail; some were later privatised and sold off.[9]

Labour was re-elected in 1987 and passed the State Sector Act. The Act made the chief executives of government department directly accountable to their ministers for five year terms instead of having permanent jobs. Over the next three years, a total of 40,000 State Sector jobs disappeared while SSC staff numbers dropped from 360 to 130.[10]

Organisational structure[edit]

Iain Rennie is currently the State Services Commissioner and Head of State Services. There are a number of deputy Commissioners responsible for different functions within the organisations including a Sector and Agency Performance Group, a Performance Improvement Programmes Group, State Sector Results Group, State Sector Reform, and Organisational Strategy and Performance Group. Each of these groups is headed by a Deputy Commissioner.[11]

Accurate data on the number of people employed at the SSC is unavailable but one source indicates it has between 51 and 200 employees.[12]


The Commissioner has three main responsibilities. He or she appoints and employs Public Service chief executives, reviews the performance of Public Service chief executives and investigates and reports on matters relating to departmental performance.[13] The Commissioner has other responsibilities relating to the operation of the Public Service as a whole; this includes setting the terms and conditions of employment for chief executives of tertiary education institutions, district health boards, and all other crown entities.[14]


The government appoints the State Services Commissioner as well as the chief executives of other key departments such as the police, the armed services, the intelligence agencies and Crown Law. Most of these positions are established by statute, and so those appointed serve fixed terms and, as such, are not employees. The Commissioner's role is to appoint the chief executives of most other public-service departments. These executives are employed by the State Services Commission on terms determined by the Commissioner.[15]

When appointing chief executives, the Commissioner is responsible for finding a suitable candidate and proposing that person to the Government. Cabinet considers the proposed appointee and has the power to veto their appointment, although this has happened only once since 1988.[16] However, the appointment of Ian Fletcher as head of the Government Communications Security Bureau in 2011 did not appear to follow this process and led to concerns about political interference by the Prime Minister, John Key.[17]

Review of chief executives[edit]

The current Commissioner, Iain Rennie, has had to review the performance of a couple of senior executives and then been criticised for his handling of those cases. In 2011, he reviewed the performance of former Building and Housing Department chief executive, Katrina Bach, who was accused of verbally abusing and manhandling a junior staff member. Following an inquiry by the SSC, Iain Rennie concluded that her conduct was unacceptable, but allowed her to retain her position. The Dominion Post said this created a perception of "different sets of rules within the public service for staff depending on their rank or seniority".[18]

In November 2014, Mr Rennie was criticised for his handling of the Commission's investigation into sexual allegations against CERA boss Roger Sutton. He allowed Sutton to speak at a press conference announcing his resignation – even though Sutton and the complainant were both bound by a confidentiality agreement.[19] After apologizing for his handling of the case, Rennie later said that as a result of the complaint, the SSC would review the guidelines on bullying and harassment in the state services.[20]

Departmental reviews[edit]

In December 2014, the SSC released a 'scathing review' on The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) which had only been in existence for two years following the amalgamation of four separate ministries. The review said MBIE suffered from weak governance, poor financial management and what it described as 'clunky corporate systems'.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ SSC's Statement of Intent
  3. ^ State Services Commissioner – role and functions, State Services Commission website
  4. ^ Story: State services and the State Services Commission, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand
  5. ^ Page 2 – The merit principle, Story: State services and the State Services Commission
  6. ^ Chapter 5: Struggles for equality: 1949-1963, Souvenir Booklet 2013,
  7. ^ 100 Years of Public Service, Souvenir Booklet 2013, p4.
  8. ^ Chapter 7 A tightening of belts: 1972-1984, Souvenir Booklet 2013
  9. ^ Age of reform: 1984-1998, Souvenir Booklet 2013, p 22.
  10. ^ Age of reform: 1984-1998, Souvenir Booklet 2013, p 22.
  11. ^ Organisational structure and senior managers, State Services Commission website
  12. ^ Linkedin
  13. ^ State Services Commissioner – role and functions, State Services Commission website
  14. ^ State Services Commissioner – role and functions, State Services Commission
  15. ^ Story: State services and the State Services Commission Page 4 – Senior officials, Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
  16. ^ Page 3 – State services commissioner, Story: State services and the State Services Commission
  17. ^ "Rennie defends hiring top spy boss". 3 News NZ. April 4, 2013. 
  18. ^ Editorial: Iain Rennie's judgment in doubt, Dominion Post 9 December 2014
  19. ^ Pressure goes on State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, New Zealand Herald, 24 November 2014
  20. ^ Roger Sutton and his dramatic downfall, Stuff 6 December 2014
  21. ^ Report highlights weak governance in super ministry, TV3 News 22 December 2014

External links[edit]