Economist Cameron Bagrie explains the 'danger' of gutting the public sector

A prominent economist is calling for a balanced approach from the Coalition around slashing public service staff. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said on Tuesday the Government was "ruthlessly focused... on delivering better public services". 

"In the public services space, health and education are big focus areas for us, as you know," Luxon told AM. 

But the public service has come under fire since the Coalition came to power, with the Pacific Peoples, Primary Industries, Health, Business, Innovation and Employment, Culture and Heritage and Environment among the ministries signalling layoffs so far this year. 

Independent economist Cameron Bagrie told AM there was a "danger" when it came to cutting public services. 

"You want to get rid of the fat," he told host Lloyd Burr. "But the danger is, when you cut off fat willy nilly you may end up cutting muscle." 

The Coalition has said the amount of money spent on bureaucrats was "excessive Government waste that's damaged every New Zealander's livelihood over the last couple of years". 

But Bagrie believed the Government was facing a "very fine balancing act". 

"When you see an 80 percent increase in Government spending over the past 5-6 years, it doesn't take a genius to work out there will be a fair bit of fat within the system," Bagrie said, "that fat is going to need to be trimmed but it's a very fine line when you at some core Government services - law and order, healthcare, education prime examples - they're under a fair bit of pressure so I don't think there's too much fat to take out of that. 

Christopher Luxon, left, and Cameron Bagrie.
Christopher Luxon, left, and Cameron Bagrie. Photo credit: AM

"These are sectors that just need money spent on them every year to keep up with everyday population growth, let alone deliver on better public services." 

The cuts to public services come amid ongoing criticism of the Coalition's tax cuts plan, which Bagrie last month said should not be a priority.   

While the Government believed its tax cuts plan would provide relief for low to middle-income earners, Bagrie said tax cuts should be set aside in favour of additional infrastructure investment. 

"I would put infrastructure a country mile ahead of tax relief in the upcoming Budget but I suspect that's going to come down to politics," he said. "But if you look at the economics of the situation, there's a pretty clear winner in regard to where New Zealand needs to be putting more money over the next 10 years and it's into infrastructure." 

The Public Service Association has said the changes being made to Government departments were a "reckless, irresponsible gamble".

"This is not a Government with its eye on the detail of how its cuts will affect New Zealanders," national secretary Duane Leo said in response to Ministry for Primary Industries role cutting proposals last month.