Letter to Hon Jacqui Dean MP about Jobs for Nature reporting

29 June 2022

Hon Jacqui Dean MP
Member of Parliament for Waitaki

Tēnā koe Ms Dean

Jobs for Nature Programme

Thank you for your letter dated 5 April 2022, in which you raise concerns about whether the $1.2 billion expenditure on the Jobs for Nature programme is providing value for money.

You have said that you have been unable to determine how Jobs for Nature is performing against the stated programme objectives and criteria. You have asked us to include close scrutiny of the programme as part of our annual planning in the next financial year.

Reporting on a programme

As you will be aware, some Government funding relates to inter-related initiatives, funds, programmes, or packages spread across several Votes administered by various departments. This can, in some cases, make it difficult to track Budget policy initiatives and other Government spending announcements to information about what objectives and performance were achieved.

One of the challenges in gathering information about something like the Jobs for Nature programme is that it is not a single policy initiative, output, or appropriation. It is a programme, which comprises many individual policy initiatives and spans several Votes and appropriations. This affects the ability to “follow the money” because information in the published Budget documents and government departments’ annual reports is not required to be organised at a programme (or fund, package, or initiative) level. Interested parties can then be left with the task of pulling together information from the programme’s component parts which is challenging and may not always be publicly available.

Although some public organisations voluntarily report on major programmes or policy initiatives in their annual reports, this reporting is neither currently required nor consistently available. In my view, maintaining public trust and confidence often requires more transparency and accountability than simply complying with the minimum statutory reporting requirements. We have commented publicly in relation to other initiatives, on how it can be difficult to reconcile some government Budget announcements with the appropriations that authorise the expenditure and to the accounts of the expenditure in departments’ annual reports.1 I have also recently recognised the work that the Treasury had done to provide additional information on its website that allows readers to track the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) initiatives through to the relevant Votes and appropriations.2

Regarding Jobs for Nature, I note that the Ministry for the Environment has set up a webpage to provide high-level reporting on the programme and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet recently released a stocktake of progress. That stocktake notes that environmental output targets were not defined at the beginning of the programme, but were subsequently determined by the projects proposed by applicants and approved by Ministers.3 Similarly, there were no agreed employment definitions at the outset, and the objective to support at least 11,000 people into work did not have a clearly defined target or metric. Subsequently, the programme metrics have been described as making good progress towards the objective, with measures about full-time equivalent employees; the numbers of temporary, part-time, and full-time people joining an employer funded by Jobs for Nature; and a point-in-time measure of people currently employed.

Seeking information on programmes through select committees

As you are aware, in the absence of sufficient, or readily accessible, public information at a programme level, members of Parliament can pursue lines of questioning in select committees. Assisting select committees in their scrutiny of public expenditure is an important part of my role.

My staff recently provided a briefing to Parliament’s Environment Committee on Jobs for Nature. The briefing noted that the agencies involved were embedding programme reporting and working on how to evaluate the programme in a holistic way. That briefing is available on Parliament’s website.4

Our office, and the appointed auditors for the relevant agencies, will continue to monitor the outcomes of Jobs for Nature. Our intention is to report to Parliament, as appropriate, on issues relating to the programme as part of our Estimates and annual review briefings.

Performance reporting

More generally, our Office has recently published good practice guidance about reporting on performance, which is available on our website.5 It aims to help staff in central government agencies prepare better reports on the performance of their organisation, particularly in their annual report. It also provides examples of reporting on what is important, providing a coherent account of performance and reporting on the impacts achieved and the contribution to outcomes being sought. It is important to have good performance information to enable an informed assessment of value for money.

Access to programme information and OIA requests

I note that you have concerns about how the Department of Conservation has addressed requests you have made under the Official Information Act 1982 and have attached further information with your letter. Those concerns are more appropriately dealt with by the Chief Ombudsman, who you have also sent your letter to.

Concluding comments

In light of the work and ongoing monitoring outlined above, we do not propose at this stage to do any additional specific work on the Jobs for Nature programme as part of our planned discretionary work in 2022/23.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. Because this is a matter of more general public interest, I intend to publish this response on our website.

Nāku noa, nā

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General

1: Update on the Government’s Covid-19 expenditure, 10 February 2021 (oag.parliament.nz).

2: Enhancing public reporting on Covid-19 related funding and expenditure, 4 May 2022 (oag.parliament.nz).

3: Jobs for Nature Stocktake of Progress DPMC-2021/22-607 - Implementation Unit Proactive Release - March 2022 - Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, page 12.

4: Environment — New Zealand Parliament (www.parliament.nz).

5: Performance reporting — Office of the Auditor-General New Zealand (oag.parliament.nz).