The government’s new policy jigsaw

Creating a policy is like doing a jigsaw; it always intersects with other policies

By Frances Denz?

If we think the current government is chaotic, it is currently only dealing with four major projects, one of which has been implemented ? throwing the oil industry under the bus.

The housing debacle is in the process of being thrown under the bus. The reform of the PTE sector has closed down a large number of private businesses and put a large revenue earner at risk, and now they are meddling with the rest of the tertiary sector.

We must not forget the capital gains tax and the imposts on landlords, both of which will make rentals uneconomic and totally disrupt that sector. Is Phil going to buy all those rental properties to add to his portfolio? Is that the cunning plan?

Here comes the real clincher! There are about another 130 working parties preparing their reports, and I am sure they will all think that they are of critical importance to the wellbeing of our country, in the spirit of fairness, providing jobs etc. All of them will require money to attain their objectives, but not only money.

They will require consultation with the community to make sure that they are saleable for the next election. They will require quality policy analysts (government paid) to put these bright ideas into a useable framework. They will require staff to implement.

If only ten working parties all need the same type of analysts, practitioners, admin staff etc to enable the ideas to come about, how will those staff be found, trained and paid for? Remember, those working parties reflect a desire of some group to achieve a result; then multiply that by 13.

They all negate the fundamental principle of developing a coherent policy. I liken it to doing a jigsaw. A policy always intersects with other policies in effectiveness, resource allocation, financing and vision.

To a certain extent that used to be done by Labour anyway by using the remit system, which was tested at different levels to ensure general acceptance. So a remit was passed by a branch, an LEC, a regional conference and then national conference. It was accepted, rejected, refined and developed along the way. Then the MPs and the Policy Council had a say as to whether it could/should be implemented. Finally, it went to the public servants to develop an implementation plan.

This process was not perfect if major change needed to be done urgently, but it did have the advantage in that it was well considered by the constituents, and everyone knew what was in the pipeline. It was planned and organised.

We now have the extraordinary situation of 130+ report-backs by small groups of people, all who want success to justify their year of work. Is their work integrated into a larger plan? No. Will the hoi polloi of the party agree with the ideas? Will they actually work? Will they work together? Do the relevant ministers have the skills to take a new policy and integrate it into all the other policies? Do they know how to share with each other to develop the picture, when all they know is that it has to look pretty, to be fair? NO they don?t.

If the beginning of this year looks shambolic just think what it will look like when another 130-something reports are presented!

National needs to be well prepared for this if they aren?t already.

They need to have each MP allocated a couple of working parties so they are well briefed before the report is unveiled.

They should have their responses well-honed, their sources of information and sound bites well primed and make sure that one-pagers are written to brief their leaders quickly in the elements ? the problem, the solution offered, the outcomes expected and the cost in money and resources.

This will enable party leaders to have an overview of the jigsaw so that they can comment sensibly on the working parties’ ideas, both individually and as a collective jigsaw. They should use the Labour criteria of fairness and kindness across the pretty picture to criticise, if criticism is required. It is possible (we hope!) for some working parties to come up with some good ideas. Grasp those quickly and make them your own, National. John Key was the master of that. After all, they will probably get lost in the plethora of reports. If you can take the best, you will get brownie points from the electorate for collaboration and caring about others.