Too early to judge $1b Provincial Growth Fund: Easton

Economist Brian Easton says it's too early to judge the success or otherwise of the government's plan to spend $1 billion a year on regional development.

Regional Economic Development and Forestry Minister Shane Jones says $245 million over 10 years will support the One Billion Trees planting program and $130.2m has so far been committed to various other projects, including forestry, tourism, energy and infrastructure. A  further $12.8m operating funding from Budget 2017 also contributes to tree planting programme.

Mr Easton says it will take a couple of years before the Provincial Growth Fund can be assessed.

“They've got a few small programmes going on – we know bits and pieces of the programme like planting trees. How much of that includes transport as a part of it, I don't know,” Mr Easton says.

“Basically, it's unreasonable to think of a government that was elected just on six months ago could invent a completely new programme in just six months. It's not how the public sector works,” he says.

“Particularly in this area, you would be very uneasy about simply announcing spending without consulting – and consulting with local authorities takes an awfully long time.”

The budget shows that $684m of this year's spending is allocated as operating expenditure while $316m is capital spending. Included in that capital spending is $80m as a portion of the capital injection to KiwiRail for the 2018/19 financial year.

“I think it's reasonable that you shouldn't expect too much yet. In two years' time, the government should be held to account on what it does,” Mr Easton says.

Mr Jones says as part of the tree-planting programme early decisions were made to enable Crown Forestry to plant and maintain trees and to expand the Ministry for Primary Industry’s Hill Country Erosion programme. Of the PGF allocation for the One Billion Trees programme, $13.5m in operating funding is for planting native trees in 2018/19 and 2019/20.