20 Aug 2022

Departing head of polytech a 'scapegoat' - National

12:25 pm on 20 August 2022

The departing head of the country's newly centralised polytech may be being used as a scapegoat, the National Party says.

National Party MP Penny Simmonds in select committee.

National's Penny Simmonds says more details are needed about what was happening at Te Pūkenga before the resignation of Stephen Town Photo: Phil Smith

Stephen Town resigned from his role as chief executive of Te Pūkenga this week, having been on personal leave that was paying up to $13,000 a week.

The mega-polytechnic has been beset with difficulties as it worked to bring polytechnics, institutes of technology and Industry Training Organisations together as one body by the end of the year.

National's tertiary education spokesperson Penny Simmonds said she had questions about what had been happening behind the scenes, and whether the "right person" had left.

Simmonds was herself the chief of the Southern Institute of Technology polytech for 23 years.

She said either Town should have been better managed or he was following board direction and was being used as a scapegoat.

Either way, Simmonds said the Auditor-General should be brought in to investigate what happened.

"I think that there's been all sorts of things happening behind the scenes, it will take a long time for it to all come out," she said.

"He has resigned now, but I'm not absolutely certain that the right person has gone."

"We need to know just whether it was appropriate for them to be paying for two chief executives for the duration of weeks that they were.

"That's a lot of money going out."

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins would not comment on Town's resignation, but admitted work to merge the country's polytechs had been rough.

Labour MP Chris Hipkins

Education minister Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"I acknowledge it's a big project that they're undertaking and it's been difficult and they haven't always hit the milestones that the government has set for them.

"I am confident though that they are getting back on track now, and that we can expect to see some really positive progress in the coming months."

Te Pūkenga faces a $100 million deficit this year, and questions about the quality of its work toward taking over from industry training and polytechnics in 2023.

It has previously apologised to its staff and to the minister of education for not making enough progress.

This week Te Pūkenga released its proposed operating structure, and began canvassing the views of its 13,000 staff on it.

Te Pou Ahurei - the Tertiary Education Union national secretary Sandra Grey said the delays and uncertainty surrounding the setting-up of the organisation were costing its staff.

"What's not clear is what levels of staffing are planned for in the proposed operating model. Our members are increasingly over worked and under pressure. We will not accept any further cuts to a network of provision already stretched paper thin."

The union said it understood most staff would not find out if they will get to keep their jobs until the end of this year.

"Experienced and valuable staff are leaving in high numbers to go and work for employers who are more than willing to offer more money and better job security," she said.

"Too much time has been spent writing high level frameworks and not enough on the practical aspects like the operating model, that's simply not good enough and our members are rightly incensed."

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