The big lolly scramble
CAN WE HAVE TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? I found myself asking that question after reading the latest round of the Provincial Growth Fund lolly scramble; in this case, splashing out on tourism, roading and forestry projects on the East Coast, totalling a whopping $151.7 million.
Actually, the roading part comes from the National Land Transport Fund, but that’s splitting hairs because it’s all government dosh and it’s all being provided by you and me through our taxes.
I’m not going to decry the big spend-up – the regions have been underfunded for years and this is merely trying to redress the balance.
What I do struggle with is the seemingly abstract way the money is being dolled out and whether it is being wisely spent, especially when it comes to the forestry projects announced since February.
Once again, I’m not saying that forestry is not deserving of the investment. Our industry has been ignored by successive governments for years and much of it sold off to the highest bidder and the money spent in other areas. We’re now getting some of that back.
But is it being spent in the right places and on the right projects? That’s something I worry about.
Individually, you can’t argue with any of the forestry projects that have benefited from the fairy dusting by Forestry Minister, Shane Jones.
Collectively, there’s a hotch-potch nature to the funding that may not ultimately deliver best bang for the bucks. The domination by the Northland and East Coast regions in who-gets-what is skewing the benefits and other regions must be wondering what they need to do to catch up. Though I’m not saying the Far North and the Far East don’t deserve it, they do.
It would be more sensible from a business point of view to create a strategic plan for the country as a whole and to coordinate the activities to ensure that there are cost-efficiencies and cost-benefits.
We do have some serious issues to address; not enough trees have been planted over the last 15 years; not enough investment has been made in adding value to the logs here in New Zealand instead of exporting them; and we’re not attracting enough people to work in our industry and provide them with the appropriate skills.
In theory, the Provincial Growth Fund is a good idea and is helping alleviate some of those issues. But it is merely administering a Band Aid, rather than a cure.
It can’t be a proper cure, largely because of the way it’s set up. I liken it to the Lotteries Commission, which invites applications from worthy causes to which it donates the proceeds of profits from those of us who play Lotto.
It’s not very strategic. It’s not very business-like. And it’s a bit of a lottery as to who gets a share of the $3 billion being made available over three years.
It is better than nothing, but it could be even better. And that would take strategic planning.