Government blames COVID-19 for 46 percent increase in communications staff

Newshub can reveal the number of communications staff working in the public sector has ballooned over the last five years.

The total number is up nearly 50 percent since Labour came into Government, and it’s also costing you an extra $21 million.

Behind every Government department, there’s a crack team of communications staff crafting the information you then hear about.

And while it's important to get messaging right, the amount the Government spends on spin and the number of spinners has skyrocketed since Labour came into power.

In 2017, there was 339 communications staff working across the public sector. Fast-forward to 2021, that's shot up to 497 - an almost 50 percent increase. 

And then there's the spin spend.

In the same five-year period, it's gone from costing the taxpayer $33.8 million to $55.3 million. That's a 64 percent increase. 

"We'll always make sure that what we spend is careful - and from time to time the ministers have had to call agencies to account - but overall this is what happens during a pandemic when we need to communicate to New Zealanders," Acting Public Service Minister Grant Robertson said.

But the National Party's Public Service Spokesperson Simeon Brown said it's a sign of a Government "spinning out of control trying to cover up the cracks of their failure to deliver".

Government relations advisor Holly Bennett says Kiwis aren't seeing value for money.

"We want good messaging, whether or not that's delivered, that's another story, and I wouldn't say they've been delivering."

The largest increases include the department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, putting it down to extra duties handling the COVID-19 response, Health NZ and also hiring fixed-term staff.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment also blames COVID-19, but says Healthy Homes compliance meant more staff were needed, telling Newshub it's currently reviewing staffing levels.

There's also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which said the extra bodies are for things like the Asia Pacific Economic Forum and Pacific engagement.

Meanwhile Land Information New Zealand said more people were needed for things like its website and intranet.

"I'm confident that the public service is delivering to New Zealanders," Robertson said.

"What New Zealanders want from a government is a government that delivers services and outcomes, not just spin," Brown said.

While the pandemics meant the Government has had to boost its spend on public health messaging, the increases in communications staff have been across the entire public sector. 

At a time when New Zealanders are tightening their belts, experts say the Government should be too.