One of the most telling moments in this morning’s Q&A interview with Bill English was when Guyon Espiner asked the Minister: “Cutting spending isn’t really an idea is it? What other ideas have you got to make us more prosperous?”
English then reeled off infrastructure, cutting red tape, public sector productivity and the tax working group. None of which amount to a strategy to address the structural weaknesses of the New Zealand economy surely. Finally Espiner tried again: “What is the key policy you want to implement?” The Minister’s response: a thriving business environment. Which it needs to be said is a goal, not a strategy.
So let’s look at English’s four ideas and how the Government has performed in its first year:
Infrastructure – Delayed the roll out of broadband for a year causing uncertainty, shifted priority from public transport to roads, not much else. Sorry I forgot the bike track.
Cutting red tape – RMA reforms scaled right back in the face of community and expert opposition, Hide’s core services agenda for local government reduced to a PREFU and plain English financial statements. Not much here to make the boat go faster.
Public sector productivity – Job cuts and a wage freeze. It is a kind of productivity increase.
Tax working group – Yet to report but the big idea seems to be a transfer of wealth from ordinary Kiwis to high earners by way of reducing the top rate and bumping up GST.
The Government could claim that it has been focused on riding out the recession. Yet as Brian Fallow writes, its measures here have been “pretty marginal in the overall scheme of things”. The Restart package for those made redundant is helping 5000, while there are 138,000 unemployed and 60,000 on the unemployment benefit. The nine day fortnight is helping just 39 businesses.
Then there is education. Jon Johansson in yesterday’s Herald says: “…the three R’s announcement is so mediocre it barely constitutes an education policy, let along being elevated as one of the six crucial policies to enhance our economic performance as Bill English recently stated”.
So having done serious damage to Kiwisaver as a tool for turning around our poor national savings record, and axed the research and development tax credit, and replaced the Fast Forward Fund for commercialising agricultural technology with an inferior alternative, you are left wondering where is the plan?