Glowing report reads like election manifesto

Bill English.
Bill English.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment yesterday released a glowing report on the Government's Business Growth Agenda in a 127-page document which could be mistaken for an election manifesto.

In a joint statement, Finance Minister Bill English and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the ''comprehensive'' Business Growth Agenda was delivering greater business investment, more jobs and higher wages.

The publication was subtitled ''Future Direction 2014'' and the ministers said it outlined the significant progress the National Government had made in creating the conditions for businesses to invest for jobs and growth.

''The Business Growth Agenda is making a real difference to productivity and competitiveness, which is critical to creating more business opportunities, more jobs and higher wages for New Zealanders,'' Mr English said.

However, questions to Mr English about how appropriate it was for taxpayers to be funding the document so close to an election were directed to the office of Mr Joyce, despite Mr English being the first quoted on the press release and the senior minister signing the report.

In an email to Mr English, the Otago Daily Times said it was unable to find anything not going well for the Government's growth agenda in the document.

His office said the report's release yesterday made good on a commitment to publicly report on the progress of the agenda.

But there were some dissenting views.

ExportNZ chief executive Catherine Beard would like to see ongoing investment in capability building programmes like the ''Better by Design'' and easier access to research and development funding.

''It would also be good if all political parties could have a population policy with a view to growing a bigger domestic market, which in turn would grow bigger companies.

"Australia is predicted to grow by 15 million people by 2050 on current policy settings. What population growth are we planning for in New Zealand?''

ExportNZ welcomed increased government investment of an extra 25 personnel in China but given the importance and complexity of the market.

Ms Beard questioned whether that was enough.

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said some holes in the agenda needed addressing.

Second-rate regulation continued to load compliance costs on business.

The Government should be advancing legislation that set standards for lawmakers to get fewer, better quality laws.

Infrastructure was subject to increasingly complex procurement processes and unclear regulations, making infrastructure more expensive and business less competitive, he said.

''We are yet to see any concrete proposals for allocating water rights, a key need for many business operations.''

The area of skills and productivity posed many challenges despite the many useful education initiatives in the growth agenda, Mr O'Reilly said.

There was a severe shortage of skills needed by business - ICT, engineering, trades and others.

Integrated policies were needed to ''grow the talent pipeline'' throughout the whole school system, not just at tertiary level.

''While taxpayers are spending billions on tertiary education, this has yet to translate into much improvement in our overall productivity,'' Mr O'Reilly said.

dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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