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English: Improving Frontline Services, Avoiding The Debt Trap

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Fuseworks Media

The public service is working constructively with the Government to deliver better services to the public in what will remain a tight fiscal and economic environment for years to come, Finance Minister Bill English said today.

The Government had several, often straightforward, opportunities to provide better frontline services, he told the Institute of Public Administration in Wellington.

"For example, by some counts there are more than 600 government websites. And there are numerous government 0800 numbers - at least two agencies have about 20 separate toll free numbers and there are quite a few with more than five of these numbers.

"We want New Zealanders to access a wide range of government services easily and reduce our costs at the same time," Mr English said.

The need to replace some aging IT systems provided other opportunities to improve frontline services.

"I think there is value in exploring whether we could provide people with a single IT window into tax and income support provided by Inland Revenue and the Ministry for Social Development.

"As this stage, it's just an idea, but it's certainly worth exploring.

"Where possible, public services should allow New Zealanders to manage their own interactions with government."

Mr English believed the impact of the recession would continue to be felt on the Government's books for 30 years and this would constrain public sector resources.

"We will double government debt by 2014 - borrowing another $40 billion, currently at the rate of $400 million a week.

"We are doing this to maintain entitlements, invest in productive infrastructure such as roads, broadband and electricity transmission, and to keep the economy running.

"But additional borrowing on that scale cannot continue indefinitely.

"The Government has been concerned to strike a balance between dampening the worst of the recession and preventing an escalation of public debt."

In the next four years, core Crown interest costs will more than double to over $5 billion annually. That means the Government's interest costs will increase by about $700 million a year.

"In all, interest costs are taking up almost 40 per cent of new spending," Mr English said. "It will take a lift in GDP of about 4 per cent over the next four years just for the Government to collect enough revenue to pay for the extra interest costs."

"For these reasons, it is strongly in the community's interests that we do not get drawn into a debt trap.

"So my message here is straightforward: We simply cannot afford to continue the public sector growth we have seen in recent years. We cannot escape this fact or wish away this constraint."

The full speech is available on the Beehive website: http://www.beehive.govt.nz/speech/public+policy+challenges+facing+new+zealand.

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