Ministry cancels $88,000 hui amid pressure on agencies to reduce spending, yet to recoup all money

Pressure on public service agencies to reduce spending has led the Ministry of Disabled People to cancel an $88,000 two-day staff hui, but it's yet to recoup all the money. 

Whaikaha - the Ministry of Disabled People - was established last year as a partnership between the disability community, Māori and the Government, intended to help make sure their community is considered in policy. 

Last week, 177 staff from across the country were scheduled to attend a two-day hui, which chief executive Paula Tesoriero told Newshub was going to be the first opportunity for most to meet and workshop face-to-face. 

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

But after questions from Newshub, Tesoriero confirmed the event had been cancelled as 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 said the ministry expected the vast majority of money would be recouped, but just $70,000 has been so far.  

Tesoriero said the ministry includes people who were previously with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development and other locations nationwide.  

"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." 

Difficult economic conditions over the past year have put pressure on both public and private sector organisations to pull back on spending.  

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 Ministry for Pacific Peoples drew criticism - including from the Public Services Commissioner - last month after spending $40,000 on a farewell party for its former chief executive.  

"It isn't consistent with the Government's expectations and that has been made very clear to the Ministry for Pacific Peoples," Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said at the time.

"It is ultimately a matter for the Public Services Commissioner to pursue but it isn't consistent with what my expectations or the Government's expectations are."

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.