Ministry for the Environment grapples with funding cuts

Ministry faces significant job losses, advocates argue programmes will be impacted

Ministry for the Environment grapples with funding cuts

The Ministry for the Environment is bracing for significant workforce reductions, as government directives drive cost-cutting measures. With the confirmation of the government’s Budget, agencies are compelled to unveil their strategies to trim expenses, per directives from Finance Minister Nicola Willis.

In a recent announcement, the Ministry for the Environment revealed plans to slash more than 300 jobs, effectively reducing its workforce by nearly a third. This proposal aims to eliminate 338 full-time positions by July of the following year, scaling down the headcount from 993 to 690. Additionally, approximately 150 fixed-term contracts are slated to conclude by the end of October.

Radio NZ noted voluntary and proposed redundancies for permanent employees are also on the horizon, with some deferments extending until June of the subsequent year. Notably, 44 individuals have already opted for voluntary redundancy since April, with further expressions of interest invited until the conclusion of the consultation period on June 26.

Chief executive James Palmer highlighted the ministry’s proactive measures in anticipation of dwindling budgets, which included a hiring freeze, utilization of fixed-term contracts, and restructuring to streamline senior management. Despite these efforts to mitigate the impact on current staff, Palmer acknowledged the challenges posed by the proposed changes, particularly for those who have diligently contributed specialized work under varying government administrations.

“Prior to the change of government, after a period of rapid growth the ministry’s budget was on track to decline by 26 percent over the next four years as time limited funding for waste, water and resource management programmes came to an end,” said Palmer.

Job cuts following budget cuts

The proposed job cuts are anticipated to yield substantial savings, with an estimated $22 million expected by 2028, according to Radio NZ. Furthermore, reductions in funding for freshwater programs are projected to generate over $23 million in savings within the same timeframe.

However, the Public Service Association Te PÅ«kenga Here Tikanga Mahi (PSA) has raised concerns regarding the potential ramifications of these cuts on crucial environmental initiatives. According to the union’s national secretary Duane Leo, vital endeavors such as combatting climate change, preserving biodiversity, and addressing freshwater degradation could be jeopardized.

Leo criticized the government’s decision, asserting that it undermines efforts to address pressing environmental challenges and risks the nation’s economic prosperity.

“It’s turning a blind eye to our environmental challenges and again ignoring the evidence of its own experts so it can fund tax cuts,” he told Radio NZ. “The ministry advised its new minister that the environment was ‘under significant pressure’ and that effort was needed ‘if the prosperity and wellbeing of New Zealanders is to be maintained.’”

Leo noted the Government’s proposal reflects its misplaced priorities, with the recent announcement of budget cuts, potentially impacting crucial environmental programmes.

“Again, showing how poorly it’s grappling with the serious and complex challenges we face,” he said. “It makes no sense, and we will be advocating strongly to the Ministry on behalf of our impacted members to think again.”

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