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Civil servants beware of NZ: British paper

Laura McQuillan

A British paper is warning civil servants to think twice about taking jobs in New Zealand following the snap resignations of two public sector bosses who fled back to the motherland.

Education Ministry boss Lesley Longstone quit unexpectedly in December after just over a year into her five-year term, while Work and Income head Janet Grossman returned to the UK last June after 11 months in the job.

The Guardian speculates that a culture clash was largely to blame.

"It is often assumed that public managers can move seamlessly from one country to another, especially if they possess a shared cultural heritage and similar political systems. But these two recent departures rather give the lie to that idea," the paper says.

However, The Guardian also attributes some responsibility to the actions of Education Minister Hekia Parata and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

In her time at the Education Ministry, Ms Longstone oversaw an attempt to increase class sizes, a move to merge Christchurch schools and the botched introduction of the new Novopay school payroll system.

Ms Longstone had never previously run a department, or had to manage a relationship with a minister - especially one "widely regarded as being out of her depth", The Guardian says.

Ms Grossman also faced a power struggle, after Ms Bennett appointed a board of "experts" to oversee Work and Income's operations.

The official line for her resignation was that her husband had job opportunities in Britain and she had decided to return with him.

The Guardian suggests British civil servants would have more luck in Kiwi roles if they start lower in a department and work their way up, "rather than being parachuted in".

Another Briton recently plopped in a top job is Wellington City Council's new chief executive, Kevin Lavery.

The Guardian says he has had a "controversial" past at Britain's Cornwall County Council, but may prove to be a good appointment - especially if he has done his homework about how New Zealand's public service operates.