Sunday, March 19, 2023

Point of Order: Financial capability services are being bucked up....

....but Stuart Nash shouldn’t have to see if they can help him (not yet)

The building of financial capability was brought into our considerations when Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni announced she had dipped into the government’s coffers for $3 million for “providers” to help people and families access community-based Building Financial Capability services.

That wording suggests some Building Financial Capability services are not community-based and are not being helped with government funding.

The ministerial press statement further suggests someone should sort out which initial letters in words should be capitalised and which should not – or, even better, why any of them should be capitalised.

In the headline and the first paragraph, the initial letters of Building Financial Capability are capitalised, but not the initial word of services.

But then the minister says:

“Demand for Financial Capability Services is growing as people face cost of living pressures. Those pressures are increasing further in areas affected by flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle.”

“We’re reprioritising an additional $3 million to invest in MSD-funded Building Financial Capability services to support demand.”

The announcement is recorded on the Beehive website along with news of Stuart Nash’s further fall from grace, although it seems his ministerial salary has not similarly been lowered. The Financial Capability implications for Nash and his family accordingly appear to be zero.

Last night I was made aware of a further situation involving Stuart Nash.

The Government has announced funding of $3 million for providers to help people, and whānau access community-based Building Financial Capability services.

Minister of Education, Hon Jan Tinetti, has announced appointments to the Board of Education New Zealand | Manapou ki te Ao. Tracey Bridges is joining the Board as the new Chair and Dr Therese Arseneau will be a new member.

Fifteen ākonga Māori from across Aotearoa have been awarded the prestigious Ngarimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarships and Awards for 2023.

High Court Judge Jillian Maree Mallon has been appointed a Judge of the Court of Appeal, and District Court Judge Andrew John Becroft QSO has been appointed a Judge of the High Court.

Exactly what will be done with the reprioritised $3 million – as announced by Sepuloni – is not as clear as it could be.

The minister says the investment in MSD-funded Building Financial Capability services

“… will increase national phone support through MoneyTalks (0800 345 123) and provide more in-person or group financial mentoring sessions, focusing on flood and cyclone affected areas as a priority. The funding boost also increases support for debt solutions and microfinance initiatives.”

She says Building Financial Capability services

“… are an integral and proven part of Government’s overall response to financial hardship in times when the cost of living is rising.

“Evidence shows these services make a positive difference for clients, helping increase financial knowledge and skills, reduce or write-off problem debt, improve mental wellbeing and empower people to take control of their finances.”

Financial capability services aren’t solely for people getting income support, Sepuloni explains (which tells us people getting income support most certainly can benefit from them).

They are available

“… for anyone who needs them. Anyone who finds themselves in financial hardship can get easy access to advice and support that makes a difference.”

The boost to these services further demonstrates the Government’s priority of focusing on helping New Zealanders deal with the cost of living and the sudden changes in income and expenses resulting from the recent severe weather events, Sepuloni says (she might also have mentioned “bread-and-butter” issues).

At this point – towards the end of the press statement – we learn:

“The funds will provide 151 grants to a range of MSD-funded Building Financial Capability providers.”

The package adds to an $11.5 community support package for NGOs and community groups, Civil Defence Emergency Management payments, MSD’s Hardship Assistance payments and Rural Assistance payments as well as the Enhanced Taskforce Green programme, Sepuloni said.

Sepuloni’s ministry’s website says Building Financial Capability (which it quickly boils down to BFC) is a range of MSD-funded services and products that help people and whānau to improve their financial wellbeing.

BFC takes a strengths-based approach to empower people to get control of their money, set goals and achieve long-term, sustainable change.

Here at Point of Order, we were left a tad bewildered about “a strengths-based approach” to “empowering people to get control of their money, set goals and achieve a long-term, sustainable change”.

On the Retirement Commission website we found a more easily digested definition:

Financial capability is more than money

Financial capability goes deeper than what we know about money. It’s feeling confident to make wise judgements about how we use and manage our money in ways that benefit us now and in the future, enables us to reach our goals, provide for our family and ultimately reach retirement in good financial shape. It’s about wellbeing.

Mention of retirement led us to the PM’s statement that on Thursday night he was made aware of a further situation involving Stuart Nash.

In September last year, acting as the local MP for Napier, he contacted a senior official at MBIE to ask him to take a look at an immigration case of a health professional in his electorate.

In doing so he did not use the established process for Ministers and MPs to advocate in an immigration case.

Nash has assured Hipkins there was no personal or other connection between the person in his electorate and him, and he was only intervening to ensure his electorate did not lose a much needed health professional.

But there is a well-established process and channel for Ministers and MPs to advocate on immigration cases and the Cabinet Manual is clear that Ministers should bear in mind that they have the capacity to exercise considerable influence over the public service.

This latest instance demonstrates a pattern of behaviour which does not reach the standard I expect from ministers.

However it is also clear in his pattern of behaviour that Stuart is not acting to achieve personal gain from his actions.

The cases in question represent more his desire to get things done in his portfolios and on behalf of his communities.

Stuart also speaks in a colloquial manner that often reflects the sentiments of a significant proportion of the community, but he needs to take greater care to ensure that what he says and how he says in upholds the standards expected of a Cabinet minister.

We have processes and rules for a reason, which partly is avoid the sorts of questions Stuart Nash is now facing, Hipkins said.

Having considered the thresholds used by previous Prime Ministers I have decided the appropriate penalty is to demote Stuart Nash and place him on a final warning.

This demotion reflects both his poor judgement on process and his failure to alert me to these past instances.

I have repeated that point to him and made clear that any further lapses will result in his dismissal as a Minister.

As I have said his actions reflect poor judgment, but the specifics of each incident do not warrant dismissal.

Nor – by implication – do they warrant a pay cut, because ministers are paid the same salary no matter where or how they are ranked.

And so Nash has no need to seek the financial capability services (whatever they might be or from whom they might be provided) that has been given a funding boost by Sepuloni.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

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