There are calls for Education Minister Hekia Parata to step down following the resignation of Lesley Longstone this afternoon.
The Education Secretary was appointed to the role in November 2011 on a five-year term, but is understood to have had a difficult relationship with Ms Parata during what has been an embarrassing year for the Ministry of Education.
Speaking at a press conference earlier today, State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said “critical relationships had been strained” and the relationship between Ms Longstone and Ms Parata was a factor in the decision he and Ms Longstone made for her to step down.
“We have been talking about this over the last few weeks,” he said.
In a statement released to media this afternoon, the Greens dubbed Ms Longstone a “scapegoat” and said Ms Parata should stand down after “one of the most destructive years in New Zealand education”.
“The Green Party welcomes a new broom at the Education Ministry as a year of blunders, which put huge stress on kids, families and teachers, comes to an end,” party co-leader Metiria Turei said.
“The Government needed someone to take the blame for all of Hekia Parata’s stuff ups as Minister and Lesley Longstone looks like she is its woman.”
Labour MP Chris Hipkins this morning tweeted that Ms Longstone looked set to be taking the fall for what he called “Hekia’s mess in education”.
“Parata is the minister,” he wrote. “If anyone is going it should be her.”
Ms Parata is currently on holiday and has declined to comment until the new year.
But, in a statement released to media this afternoon, she acknowledged Ms Longstone’s resignation and her “efforts during her time at the Ministry”.
“It has been a difficult period and there have been a series of tough issues to deal with.”
Ms Longstone’s resignation follows a year of public battles for the Ministry including the Novopay salary debacle, National Standards and discrepancies in the Christchurch schools merger and consultation process.
Mr Rennie said a ‘golden handshake’ is being negotiated at the moment and a payment package will be offered to Ms Longstone.
Peter Hughes will take over as Acting Education Secretary from February 9.
A Ministry of blunders:
Longstone 'the fall guy for an inept minister'
The Public Service Association has also come out firing, saying Ms Longstone has become the fall guy for “an inept minister”.
In a statement released to media this afternoon, National Secretary Brenda Pilott said the resignation had undoubtedly come as a result of Ministerial pressure and interference.
“Lesley Longstone was put under enormous pressure by the Education Minister. She has been forced to front the issues while the Minister has consistently ducked for cover,” she said.
“It’s time for Hekia Parata to take some responsibility for her own mismanagement rather than making others pay the price.”
Ms Pilott says it is time for the State Services Commission to take stock of the way it appoints and supports chief executives.
Work and Income head Janet Grossman, like Ms Longstone, was headhunted from Britain – but resigned after just nine months in the position.
“The Commission needs to think long and hard about making overseas appointments and consider the unique complexities, demands and pressures of the New Zealand context,” Ms Pilott says.
“High level public sector management requires not only competence but a deep understanding and experience of the issues past and present.”
Ms Pilott says Ms Longstone was allowed to “walk into the eye of a storm”.
“I think it’s fair to question whether she was armed with the right knowledge and experience to weather it, and whether she was given adequate support – particularly in the face of strong Ministerial challenges and very high political stakes.”