Chris Hipkins says agencies should embrace videoconferences after ministry plans $88k staff hui, cancels due to cost

Labour leader Chris Hipkins wants public agencies to look at video conferencing rather than flying staff to meetings around the country to deliver "better bang for buck". 

It comes after Newshub on Thursday revealed the Ministry of Disabled Peoples planned to hold an $88,000 two-day staff hui last week, but then canned it due to the high cost and to reassess how it holds such events in the future. It's yet to recoup nearly $20,000. 

Speaking to media on the election campaign, Hipkins said every Government agency needed to be "really mindful of all of its public spending all of the time".  

"We've learned through the global pandemic that actually there are effective ways of bringing people together that are much cheaper than flying people all over the country for conferences and so on, and I expect all public sector agencies to be embracing that." 

He said he wanted agencies to look at video conferencing "rather than flying people around the country". 

"That's going to deliver a better bang for buck for the taxpayer," Hipkins said. "It actually is going to save people time and be more efficient as well. I'd expect all public agencies to be taking it very seriously." 

National leader Christopher Luxon called the initial estimated cost of the Ministry of Disabled Peoples event "ridiculous". 

"What it does speak to is a culture of excess and largesse within public service and within Government departments," Luxon said. 

"That is waste in our system. That is people not focused on what they are there to achieve and deliver. "There is no reason why the taxpayers of New Zealanders should be paying for those expenses. We are going to move… money out of the bureaucracy and put it on the frontline of our services of New Zealand." 

Newshub reported on Thursday morning that the Ministry of Disabled People had planned a two-day hui last week for 177 from across the country.

The estimated cost was about $88,000, which included the cost of accessible venue hire, travel, accommodation, meals, sign language interpreters and other accessibility requirements.  

However, chief executive Paula Tesoriero said the event was cancelled after the ministry "decided to re-assess how we bring everyone together due [to] the costs of holding an event like this at a time when public service agencies are being encouraged to reduce spending where possible".   

She told Newshub the ministry expected the vast majority of money would be recouped, but just $70,000 has been so far.   

The event was meant to be the first opportunity for most to meet and workshop face-to-face.  

"The online ways of meeting we typically use are not as accessible for all our kaimahi," she said.

"This hui was for our people to discuss strategic priorities and how we can work together more efficiently and effectively to help make a meaningful difference in the lives of disabled people, tāngata whaikaha Māori and their whānau by accelerating our ambitious transformation agenda. This was also going to be an opportunity for professional development."  

Spending by public agencies on events has come under scrutiny recently after the Ministry for Pacific Peoples was criticised for spending $40,000 on a farewell party for its former chief executive. 

That was slammed by Hipkins at the time as being inconsistent with Government expectations.  Hipkins was the Public Services Minister at the time of the event last year but denied he had overseen a culture of extravagance in the public service.  

Last month, Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a package of measures to help the Government tighten its belt.   

That included requiring public sector agencies to trim 1 to 2 percent off their existing baselines, though Whaikaha was excluded from its host agency, the Ministry of Social Development's required savings.  

The National Party's tax policy includes a plan to reduce "back-office expenditure" by an average of 6.5 percent across Government departments. Its focus is reducing spending on advertising, public relations spending, retiring working groups and stopping programmes to refurbish offices.

Sign up to receive news updates

By entering your email address, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Newshub and its affiliates may use your email address to provide updates/news, ads, and offers. To withdraw your consent or learn more about your rights, see the Privacy Policy.