Business left wanting, barely crumbs for South

Business interests received only a cursory nod in the Government's Budget yesterday and there was little for regions outside Auckland, except a contestable share of a $25 million fund to create mixed public-private regional research institutes.

The Government announced in April an $80 million boost for research and development (R&D) grants from Callahan Innovation.

However, yesterday's announcement of perhaps three regional institutes over five years, plus new annual performance reports on science and innovation, appeared lacklustre for those expecting tangible regional support, let alone tax breaks.

The Budget was described by some analysts as ''predictable, no surprises, left wanting and conservative'' and its impact south of the Bombay hills largely underwhelming.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce ''envisaged'' the regional institutes, would focus on scientific research relevant to the region, with emphasis on new technologies, new firms, and new products and services.

''This will in turn help to support regional development, create new jobs and lift incomes,'' Mr Joyce said in a statement.

Funded from a public-private mix, they would be modelled on Nelson's non-profit Cawthron Institute, which specialises in aquaculture, marine biosecurity, and coastal and freshwater ecology.

Otago Southland Employers Association chief executive John Scandrett said the Budget provisions did not cover regional development assistance ''of relevance to us''.

However, he said the South could capture some of the $25million three-year funding for the research facilities ''beyond the main centres''.

It was ''a bit ironic'' that the day before the Budget there was new infrastructure investment of up to $45 million by Port Otago and $40 million from the Dunedin City Council.

''Good stuff for sure ... we here are well used to having to help our own regional needs,'' Mr Scandrett said.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan said the overall funding for education, policing and health, major components of Dunedin, was ''underwhelming'' and offered only ''minor help'' for the local economy.

The possibility of an Otago research institute was ''positive'', albeit the prediction of having so few institutes after five years represented ''the slow before the go'', Mr McGowan said.

Outgoing BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said the Budget was ''an incremental approach to reform''.

While the Government's accounts continued to improve and key economic indicators were positive, ''the jury is still out as to whether a slowly-slowly approach is ideal''.

He noted cutting ACC levies by about $500 million would be welcomed by business, employees and motorists alike.

He said proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) alarmed environmentalists but the Act was often seen also seen as a more urban-type ''red tape'' issue.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said it would get an additional $20.4 million over four years, from a total of $41.2 million to be spent on the environment but released no details.

Mr McGowan also noted Dr Smith's additional $16.8 million to support improving the management of freshwater ''won't go far, when spread around the entire country''.



Science andinnovation

• Up to $25 million over three years, to support new, privately led regional research institutes.

• 12.1 million for the New Zealand Business Number; a unique identifier for businesses interacting with the Government.

• $80 million extra for R&D growth grants. 


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