23 May 2024

Te Pūkenga pays $216k for advice on how to replace itself

6:54 am on 23 May 2024
Te Pūkenga

Te Pūkenga hired the advisors after the government said it wished to disestablish the organisation. File photo. Photo: supplied

The national institute of skills and technology is paying $2000 a day to specialist advisors looking into how to replace the mega entity.

Te Pūkenga said it had spent $216,000 on pay, travel, accommodation and internal support for the seven advisors so far this year.

It said the organisation's council appointed the advisors from a field of 20 candidates at two meetings in February, although their contracts began at the end of January.

Asked why the contracts began before the advisors were appointed, Te Pūkenga said: "In line with the Minister's the expectations to set up a new structure for vocational education and training, some of the individuals who, following advice from relevant government agencies, were subsequently appointed as specialist advisors to Te Pūkenga, had initial meetings with some of Te Pūkenga Council and the acting CEO.

"This was in advance of their formal appointment by Te Pūkenga Council which took place on Feb 8 for the majority of the specialist advisors. Additional specialist advisors were appointed by the Council on Feb 27."

It said the advisors' role was "to work with Te Pūkenga national, regional and divisional leaders, as well as communities including Māori and iwi to gather information and provide guidance on the shape of a future regional network of vocational education entities to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and the Minister".

"There is an expected time commitment of between five and eight days per month associated with each of these roles."

The institute also revealed that its then-chief executive Peter Winder altered the contracts of six senior managers late last year to give them the option of taking voluntary redundancy over the following 12 months.

The move followed the government's formal direction that it wished to disestablish the organisation that combined polytechnics and work-based training.

"This applied for a 12-month period, with termination dates to be agreed, and was on the basis that the roles and duties of these employees would cease to exist or change materially in the lead up to disestablishment of Te Pūkenga," it said.

"With some unification functions halted, and other responsibilities devolved to divisions in line with the Minister's expectations, one of the six senior leaders took up the voluntary redundancy opportunity in December 2023. Two others have also taken up this opportunity and have agreed termination dates this year."

Te Pūkenga said the changes to the contracts did not alter the sums they would be entitled to if they were made redundant.

It said the staff who took voluntary redundancy were not being replaced.

Te Pūkenga's council last year offered Winder voluntary redundancy on the basis that his job had changed considerably, from setting up Te Pūkenga to disestablishing it.

Tertiary Education Commission chief executive Tim Fowler said it was not involved in the decisions.

"The Te Pukenga council made the TEC aware of the changes made by the then-chief executive after they discovered those changes had been made. The TEC does not get involved in employment issues at tertiary education institutions. That is the responsibility of TEI councils, whose core role includes the employment and performance of the Chief Executive," he said in a statement.

"We expect all tertiary education institutions to uphold high standards, ensure robust processes are followed and that public funds are spent appropriately."

The Office of the Auditor General told RNZ it had been made aware of the matter but had not received any requests to inquire into it.

"Our annual audit work typically includes reviewing payments made to senior management upon their resignation. We are currently carrying out the Te Pūkenga audit for the year ended 31 December 2023. It is likely that this matter would fall under the audit of the 2024 financial statements," it said.

Tertiary Education Minister Penny Simmonds said she was not involved in or accountable for employment matters at Te Pūkenga.

"However, I expect all tertiary education institutions to uphold high standards, ensure robust processes are followed, and that public funds are spent appropriately," she said in a statement.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs