02 October 2023

“My wife at the time called it my mid-career crisis,” laughs Craig Churchill on his move into government after 30 years in the transport and logistics industry. 

“But a lot of what I was doing was helping businesses deal with change, looking for opportunities, and working with stakeholders around solutions, so a lot of those skills are very transferable to the role of Regional Public Service Commissioner.”

Based in Nelson, Craig is Regional Public Service Commissioner (RPSC) for three regions: Marlborough, Nelson-Tasman, and the West Coast. He is one of 12 RPSCs working across 15 regions on behalf of the Public Service. 

Employed by individual government departments, RPSCs help join-up Public Service efforts with stakeholders in the community to define priorities and improve services and outcomes. They can also escalate issues to senior public service decision makers where necessary.

The approach acknowledges that iwi and other Māori groups and regional stakeholders (including Pasifika, local government, business, ethnic and community groups) know the realities of their communities and hold valuable insights into what can work to improve their wellbeing.

At its very simplest, Craig boils down his role to connecting people and resources.  

“And that’s about making connections in both directions helping local leaders navigate central government, but also connecting agencies with communities and giving them confidence to invest funding there. 

“So we might not be the end reason things happen, but we do help to connect the right people to the right places, so in that respect you could say it’s building stronger networks and supporting collaboration across public service and communities

If we all believe that this is important, then how do we come together to make it happen? If I’ve got a bit of money here, and you’ve got a bit of money there, can we put it together to get a better result faster.

Like other fellow RPSCs, Craig is also a regional commissioner for the Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora Ministry of Social Development (MSD), which means he has a good support team around him, and a “very experienced and capable operational team right across the regions”.

But unlike the other RPSCs, he is relatively new to the Public Service.

Before joining MSD in 2019, Craig lived in various centres around the country working in a variety of senior operational, sales, general management, and business leadership roles in transport and logistics.

He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, Leadership New Zealand, and a member of the New Zealand Institute of Directors.

Craig says having three “very different regions” makes for a range of interesting challenges.

For example, there is economic development work plus training and support for jobseekers on the West Coast. In Marlborough there’s work to support the challenges of a constrained labour market and seasonal workforce. And in Nelson Tasman there is supporting economic growth and the development of critical skills for projects like the hospital rebuild and an aged care strategy for the aging population there.

Across all regions there is ongoing coordination and support for housing, family wellbeing, and youth engagement strategies – and that is outside of the weather events and emergency management leadership support which is becoming more frequent. 

A unique project has been the role of the Regional Public Service Commissioner leading the all-of-government response to support change at Gloriavale, which has been convened through Craig’s RPS support team as RPSC for the West Coast.

A key component of leading the response has been joining up agencies on the ground, working with the community to deliver 5 key outcomes, while ensuring everyone is clear on expectations and able to support each other to bring about meaningful change.

“The other key benefit of this approach has been the ability to quickly report progress back to Wellington via a single-view report.”

Craig believes it is precisely in these types of situations where the RPSCs will be able to make an impact in the future. 

“I think that’s where the untapped scope is in the role, and how it might be used going forward,” he says.

“The ability to go directly into a region and be able to get something done quickly, by working collaboratively with a group of joined-up regional stakeholders – there’s huge potential there. That’s where we can add real value.

“I really believe having locally led and supported solutions ensures better regional engagement and more cost-effective delivery.”