By Pattrick Smellie
The government is talking seriously to the global search engine giant Google about providing software services to cut the cost and improve the efficiency of public services, Prime Minister John Key says.
With the annual Budget Policy Statement due for release on Thursday, Key used his post-Cabinet press conference today to outline for the first time the reason for two meetings he held in June and July last year with Google executives.
The first meeting was at the Nethui event in Auckland in June, and again in San Francisco in July, en route to Washington DC for a state visit.
Key gave little detail, but proposed being able to interact with government agencies on a smartphone as a benchmark for lower cost, more efficient public services.
As part of the same set of initiatives, which will be a focus of this year’s Budget, the government wanted people not to have to repeatedly give the same information to different government departments, and envisaged increased data and back-office service sharing, as well as more mergers of existing government departments.
Last year, a Treasury report found the best opportunities for back-office savings lay in improving the government's complex and divergent information and communications technology services, which could trim an annual $124 million in ICT spending.
Google was already providing some such services to other governments, including the US federal government, with cost and security being the biggest issues for such technology.
“They (Google) have the technical capability,” said Key. “They have programming capability for the US government and a number of other governments as well.”
“Quite a big revamp” was on the cards for delivery of government services to New Zealanders, Key said. While such moves were expected to see job losses, Key said he made “no apology” for wanting more efficiency.
The $800 million of new spending available in the Budget this year would barely stretch to cover population growth and inflation in the health and education sectors, he said, indicating that proposals to allow larger class sizes were being treated seriously.
“It depends how far you would take it,” said Key, who also foreshadowed the difficulty any such policy would face since class sizes are an element in contract negotiations with teacher unions.
Asked about proposals that could raise rates or the rate of GST for Aucklanders to pay for the city’s development plans, Key said the city was already expensive to live in and many households were not earning high incomes.
He predicted a large number of Aucklanders would have “choked on their Kornies this morning” when reading coverage of the proposed suite of new revenue-gathering initiatives from Auckland mayor Len Brown.
However, Key welcomed acknowledgement that the rate of Auckland’s development had to reflect how much Aucklanders were willing to fund it themselves, over and above central government investment.
(Updates with video of Key on Google)