Government spends almost half a million dollars on new furniture

Peter Hughes, State Services Commission's chief executive.
Peter Hughes, State Services Commission's chief executive. Photo credit: File

Extreme Makeover: Government Departments Edition has a new star - the State Services Commission. 

The agency tasked with overseeing all of our Government departments has had a massive spend-up on an office refit, spending more than $4000 per staff member on furniture alone. 

The entire spend of the refurbishment came in at $908,107. Of that, $475,000 was on furniture. 

In a business case signed off by chief executive Peter Hughes, the commission argued the new workspace would deliver "fully flexible work space with no allocated desks, including for the State Services Commissioner".

The fit-out abolished an assigned desk for the chief executive as part of the move to a hot desking system. It also features a new "hosted reception area". 

Act leader David Seymour says taxpayers should be furious. 

"New Zealanders will be frustrated to learn their money has gone towards something as fuzzy as a more 'collaborative operating model'," he said. 

Despite the big ticket price, the commission says the project was "finished on time, under budget and with minimum disruption."

Hughes has been under fire before for renovation spending. While chief executive at the Ministry of Education, he oversaw a $20 million refurbishment that included a $2.6 million staircase dubbed the "stairway to heaven" and a reception area referred to in documents as similar to an Air New Zealand "Koru Lounge". 

But even that spend-up didn't top this in terms of how much was spent per member of staff - the Ministry of Education fit out came in at a little more than $3000 a head. 

Chris Hipkins attacked Hughes for the Education Ministry spend up then as Opoosition education spokesman. Now, as Minister of State Services, he has less to say.

"I haven't been briefed on that so I'd need to go and have a look at it and compare it with what other refits have cost," he said.

"I'd need to go and look at what’s included within the definitions of furnishings because in the different refits that have happened across different departments different definitions of furnishings have been used for example carpet has been regarded as furnishings in some but not in others."

But he's promising to go just as hard when he has all the information.

"If it is in line with the Ministry of Education refit that I criticised previously then I’d have the same concerns."

The furniture was sourced from Aspect Furniture systems. The company's portfolio includes Xero and Icebreaker, as well as several Government projects such as Christchurch's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Transpower HQ in Wellington and the Ministry of Health. 

The State Services Commission is based in the Reserve Bank building and its lease was due to expire at the end of next month but has now been extended to March 2021.

The commission suffered damage to work spaces during the Kaikoura Earthquake - repairs were estimated to cost $17,000.