Keeping Pacific communities safe through COVID-19
“Portrait of New Zealand Public Service Medal recipient Aiolupotea Sina Aiolupotea-Aiono from Ministry for Pacific Peoples with colourful background”

Aiolupotea Sina Aiolupotea-Aiono’s passion to deliver outcomes for Pacific peoples and communities embodies the spirit of service. She knows what it takes to build sustainable relationships with communities - living and breathing it every day in her role as Deputy Chief Executive -  Regional Partnerships, Ministry for Pacific Peoples.

These closely held relationships were particularly key in the huge role she played in supporting Pacific communities in Auckland during the resurgence of COVID-19 in August 2020. This included engaging with church leaders, rolling out communications in nine different Pacific languages and distributing 100,000 face masks to churches working with Pacific providers.

Aiolupotea’s spirit of service is built on understanding, trust and mutual respect among Pacific communities.

A leader who always goes above and beyond, she puts in long hours with her team to deliver what is needed for communities. She leads from the front with care and integrity and empowers her team and the communities she works with to deliver the outcomes that matter most. For this reason, she was a worthy recipient of Te Tohu Ratonga Tūmatanui | New Zealand Public Service Medal.

Working hard to keep New Zealanders safe and healthy

“Portrait of New Zealand Public Service Medal recipient Margaret Dotchin from Auckland District Health Board”Through COVID-19, our health sector worked incredibly hard to keep New Zealanders safe. Margaret Dotchin, Chief Nursing Officer at Auckland District Health Board, is an outstanding nurse and health leader, and an inclusive practitioner. She is passionate about nursing and delivering vital services to patients, which she has been doing for over 30 years as a senior leader in her field.

Margaret has led innovative nursing approaches that improve the patient experience and is an outstanding role model for nurses. She led the development of Auckland District Health Board’s nursing strategy, a blueprint for nurses that underpins their professional development. She has also been fundamental in creating nursing scholarships for Māori and Pacific students to ensure they are better represented in the workforce.

Last year, Margaret’s lead role in the Northern Region’s health response to COVID-19 drove new levels of collaboration and created a model for the region’s sustained response to the pandemic.

Margaret is driven by a spirit of service to the community she serves, and last year she was awarded Te Tohu Ratonga Tūmatanui | New Zealand Public Service Medal.

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“Portrait of New Zealand Public Service Medal recipient Dr Nicholas Jones from Hawke’s Bay District Health Board”Dr Nicholas Jones is a true public health champion, which was recognised last year with his receipt of Te Tohu Ratonga Tūmatanui | New Zealand Public Service Medal.

In his roles as Medical Office of Health and Clinical Director for Health Improvement and Equity Directorate at Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, Dr Jones has demonstrated compassionate and strong leadership during numerous emergency responses.

This includes the H1N1 response in 2009, the country’s largest contaminated drinking water outbreak in 2016 and the local response to COVID-19.

Dr Jones works in partnership with the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board Māori Health Service, local iwi, NGOs and community groups, and he understands what true partnership means. He is a dedicated, altruistic public servant who has worked throughout his career to improve public health outcomes for New Zealanders.

Better outcomes for New Zealanders

“Staff from the Ministry of Social Development, Inland Revenue, Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, and the Treasury holding joint Better Outcomes Awards at the Spirit of Service Awards 2020”

Responding to the challenges of COVID-19 has been a huge priority for the Public Service in the last year. The joint winners of Te Tohu mō ngā Hua E Pai Ake Ana | Better Outcomes Award at the 2020 Te Hāpai Hapori | Spirit of Service Awards are great examples of the work being done to support New Zealanders.

The whole of Ministry of Social Development (MSD) response to COVID-19 saw staff putting people first and useing technology to rapidly transform the way they work. Within three weeks of Level 4 lockdown, MSD had moved their service to online and over the phone and achieved better response levels than before the COVID pandemic.

More than 7,500 New Zealanders were placed in work in June 2020, a 40 percent increase on the same month last year.

At the same time, twice as many New Zealanders were placed into emergency housing and the MSD team checked in on 150,000 elderly New Zealanders. Rapid implementation of wrap-around services, including counselling and sexual and family violence help, improved safety and wellbeing outcomes for 1.3 million New Zealanders.

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The Better Outcomes Award also recognised Ministry of Social Development; Inland Revenue; Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Treasury for supporting New Zealand businesses during the COVID-19 lockdown.

They showed collaborative spirit of service in delivering the biggest change to the personal income tax system in a generation and providing support to half a million businesses to keep 1.8 million New Zealanders in work during the COVID-19 lockdown.

In just 18 days, the Treasury and Inland Revenue designed and implemented a loan scheme that has helped more than 92,000 small business owners manage through the COVID-19 crisis. More than $1.5 billion has been lent, mostly within 24 hours of a business applying.

The MSD team worked with the Treasury, Inland Revenue and MBIE to pull off the near impossible: developing a proposal for the nation-wide Wage Subsidy Scheme in five days and rolling it out 48 hours later.

Responding to and recovering from COVID-19

For the past two years, the Public Service has led our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, this was about protecting New Zealanders by eliminating the virus and then keeping it out of our communities. The Public Service was also key to the economic and social response; providing timely and accessible support to New Zealand workers and businesses that were unable to work through the lockdowns. Since combining recovery efforts with the ongoing response, the Public Service has remained focused on the continuing threat to New Zealanders posed by COVID-19 and on addressing the social and economic effects on New Zealand. Ultimately, this focus has protected the wellbeing of New Zealanders and enhanced the resilience of our society in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic.

Our measure of overall public trust in the Public Service increased to an all-time high of 69 percent in the last quarter of 2020. It is highly likely that this was significantly affected by the Public Service’s response to COVID-19. This is an example of how delivery, combined with good and transparent communications and backed by professional expertise, can win the confidence of New Zealand’s communities.

The sustained effort has depended on excellent leadership across the multiple agencies involved in the recovery effort. The Public Service Leadership Team (PSLT), codified in the Act, led the Public Service through this crisis. The PSLT is made up of the Public Service chief executives, the chief executives of the Police, the New Zealand Defence Force, and the major Crown agents. It works as an executive team to support a unified Public Service and is led by the Public Service Commissioner.

At an overall system level, the PSLT ensures that the flexibility shown by the public sector in the emergency phase – mutual support between agencies, sharing of expertise and redeployment of staff between agencies – continues through the recovery phase.

The PSLT established a number of cross-agency groups governing aspects of the COVID-19 response, including the COVID-19 Chief Executives Board and the Border Executive Board.

The Border Executive Board has been established to deliver an integrated and effective border system, including efforts to keep COVID-19 out of New Zealand. This is an example of using one of the new organisational forms, provided by the new Public Service legislation, to upgrade the operating model of the Public Service and better meet the needs and priorities of New Zealand. The Border Executive Board ensures that border agency chief executives have clear responsibility for end-to-end management of the border and are well placed to address future challenges.

COVID-19 has resulted in economic and social difficulties for New Zealanders. The PSLT showed leadership and solidarity with New Zealanders by voluntarily taking salary reductions themselves. This was followed by a number of wider public sector CEs and Boards.  The PSLT also led the implementation of the Government’s workforce policy statement that implemented pay restraint, which has been extended to the Crown entity sector. The current period of pay restraint has resulted in an increase in engagement with entities to support them in setting remuneration and fees for board members that are within guidelines.

The Commission’s role includes ensuring the Public Service maintains a sustainable and resilient effort over time and provides timely and effective support to agencies at the frontline of the COVID-19 response. The Commissioner has put in place a Kaikōmihana Tuarua mō Te Whakahaumanu me te Urupare i te Kōwheori-19 | Deputy Commissioner COVID-19 Response and Recovery to lead our work in relation to COVID-19. We play an active role in interagency groups and maintain close involvement with the individual agencies involved in the COVID-19 response to support them in delivering for New Zealand in difficult circumstances. Ensuring individuals working in the response area are supported has been vital. We worked with chief executives to ensure that plans are in place for key leaders and officials to support their wellbeing and resilience and take breaks from work as needed.

We also provided Ministers with advice on governance and institutional arrangements to support the COVID-19 response and coordinated advice from agencies to Ministers on COVID-19 resourcing decisions.

COVID-19 illustrated the importance of having an agile workforce and created immediate demand for cross-system deployment, including to fill senior leadership positions in the response. Mid 2020, to support workforce mobilization work led by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), we implemented a manual workforce deployment approach to match the available resources with emerging opportunities. In December, as we assumed COVID-19 workforce responsibility from DPMC, we established a Workforce Mobility Hub, combining cross-system critical COVID-19-workforce resourcing support and the manual workforce deployment approach. Flexible deployment of people between agencies is a new concept in the New Zealand public sector. It involves distributing people and their skills where they are most needed for the system to work effectively rather than confining them to the particular agency they were initially employed with.

The Workforce Mobility Hub’s primary priority has been (and remains) delivering brokering services for critical COVID-19-workforce resourcing – primarily but not exclusively for the Ministry of Health. As at June 2021, we had responded to 383 requests for critical COVID-19 resourcing needs. The Workforce Mobility Hub will continue to support flexible deployment of people across the system in a way that is responsive to emerging and critical needs as we move ahead with our COVID-19 response and recovery.

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