The recruitment bill at Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell’s organisation increased by more than 1000 percent in the last financial year, its latest annual report has revealed.

The Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) has attributed the high costs to the expansion of the commission’s work, rather than the high turnover of staff cited as a concern by those who formerly worked there.

Maxwell was asked to go on leave last week, following a Newsroom investigation into allegations of bullying and mismanagement raised by former staff.

According to the CFFC’s latest annual report, it spent $89,922 on recruitment costs in the 2017/18 financial year – a 1052 percent increase on the $7808 bill for 2016/17.

More than half the organisation’s staff left their roles in 2017/18, according to select committee figures from earlier in the year, up from 24.2 percent the previous year.

Expansion and ‘reorientation’ behind bill – CFFC

Some of the employees who spoke to Newsroom as part of its initial investigation into Maxwell raised concerns about the financial impact of her behaviour.

Employee F said the high levels of staff turnover had negatively affected the “return on investment” for taxpayers who funded the commission’s work.

“People just get settled and then they leave. Many projects were started and left unfinished, important information lost in handovers, negotiating power with suppliers lost.”

A CFFC spokeswoman said roughly a quarter of the recruitment cost was due to appointing people to lead its new Sorted in Schools programme, “a substantial piece of work” which required a team of specialist staff.

The remainder of the bill was due to the expansion of the commission’s research and community programmes teams, as well as a decision to “reorient” its communications team away from “a traditional marketing approach to one of content creation and distribution”.

A spokeswoman for Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation he has asked the State Services Commission (SSC) to carry out into the bullying allegations.

Acting commissioner appointed

Faafoi has previously confirmed he raised the commission’s high turnover with Maxwell after receiving the latest select committee figures in May, but was told there were “a number of factors” influencing staff departures.

The head of the SSC’s inquiry and its terms of reference are yet to be finalised and released to the public, although a spokesman said an announcement was “imminent”.

Meanwhile, Peter Cordtz – the commission’s communities group manager – has been appointed as the acting Retirement Commissioner while Maxwell is on leave.

The CFFC spokeswoman said Cordtz has been part of the organisation’s senior leadership team for the last three years, and would ensure its monitoring and support work was carried out in Maxwell’s absence.

Representatives from MBIE had visited the commission to meet staff following Maxwell’s departure on leave, with staff support services put in place to provide confidential phone counselling or one-on-one, offsite support if required at no cost.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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