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New Zealand Foreign Affairs boss John Allen may be on a collision course with the Government after fresh disquiet among ministry staff that changes to a controversial restructuring plan do not go far enough.
In a letter to staff, leaked to Fairfax, Allen confirms he has again pushed back the deadline for final decisions after a backlash over proposals to make 600 staff reapply for roles, slash overseas living allowances, outsource consular services, slash remuneration for some staff depending on their positions, and make hundreds of jobs redundant.
He has backed down on several proposals, including roughly halving the number of positions to be axed, after Foreign Minister Murray McCully delivered a thinly veiled warning that some of his proposals went too far, while signalling that others did not go far enough to shift the ministry's strategic focus in line with Government policy.
But after an extraordinary gathering of about 40 heads of mission for crisis talks in Wellington this month, Allen looks set to proceed with some of the more contentious changes, while making other changes that have caused fresh unease among staff.
It is understood some have gone over the top of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry bosses and approached senior government ministers directly over their concern that the exodus of top staff already underway will only accelerate now that it appears Allen is determined to stick with parts of his controversial plan.
McCully is believed to have raised concerns with State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, but it is not clear what action, if any, Rennie will take.
Several top diplomatic staff and trade negotiators have already quit the ministry.
In a letter to staff last Friday, Allen said he now expected to finalise the revised restructuring plan by May 10, but signalled some issues were still being addressed, including overseas allowances and remuneration, which still look likely to be targeted, though affected staff will have their existing allowances and remuneration preserved for a time under a grandparenting arrangement.
Allen also signalled that some senior management roles in Wellington previously earmarked to go may now be retained, and the original plan to make 600 staff reapply for their role would be watered down to affect fewer staff.
But this change could also be controversial because Allen suggests exempting some of the most senior staff, and putting others who are overseas in a priority queue, potentially sparking an exodus of up-and-comers who may struggle to win promotions.
Allen confirms, meanwhile, that the ministry is pressing ahead with proposals, including a global banking arrangement, outsourcing payroll and setting up a contact centre to manage calls to New Zealand's diplomatic posts around the world, work now handled by staff on the ground.
His letter does not make any reference to what some ministers see as a bloated senior leadership team and information technology division – something the Government has made no bones about preferring to see trimmed ahead of diplomatic positions.
There have also been rumbles over the size of the ministry's “change management” team, costing more than $9 million.
Meanwhile, the letter refers only fleetingly to embassy closures, with the Government making it clear it wants resources shifted from Europe toward Asia and other emerging economies to fit with trade priorities.
Allen has proposed cutting Warsaw and Stockholm, but McCully wants the ministry to put its posts in Rome, The Hague and Madrid under the microscope, potentially servicing them out of a Brussels-based diplomatic hub.
His letter said Cabinet would discuss the issue in early May.
The ministry's restructuring plan was a bid to trim $25 million a year.
SOURCE: FAIRFAX NZ/PACNEWS
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