23 Aug 2020

Regions query if Provincial Growth funding is fair

5:33 pm on 23 August 2020

Kāpiti's mayor says a map of provincial growth funding is a good road-marker to what he calls "the politics of patronage".

Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan

Kāpiti's Mayor Gurunathan says he does not begrudge the regions which are the top three funding recipients. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Kāpiti District received $3.2 million for four projects from the Provincial Growth Fund, according to numbers crunched by the Nelson-Tasman Chamber of Commerce in a bid to find out where the money was going from the PGF.

The Top of the South region (Te Tauihu) which included Nelson-Tasman and Marlborough, received just shy of $16 million.

But the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment said the funding total from the establishment of the fund through to 30 June 2020 was just a snapshot and did not fully recognise the investment the government was making in Te Tauihu, or that other projects were still being actively considered.

It said the government announced in July another $53.3m funding for a variety of projects throughout Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough.

Financial support for Te Tauihu came from a combination of Provincial Growth Fund, Infrastructure Reference Group loans and investments, and from the $3 billion set aside for infrastructure projects in the government's Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

The current total financial support from all these streams amounted to almost $84m for Te Tauihu projects.

Kāpiti's Mayor Gurunathan (also known as Mayor Guru) said his district was expecting further announcements, but "at the end of the day I would reluctantly say that if you look at where are the places getting the most, that would give you an indication how the politics of patronage plays a part in how this fund is dispensed".

Mayor Guru said he did not begrudge areas such as Northland, the Bay of Plenty or Tairawhiti/East Coast, which were among the top recipients; given the areas of deprivation within their boundaries.

"I think they deserve it, but by the same token Kāpiti has pockets of high deprivation and that's been overlooked."

Nelson City and Port Nelson which have secured a portion of help from the PGF.

Nelson City and Port Nelson which have secured a portion of help from the PGF. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Nelson-Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ali Boswijk felt the Top of the South region had also been overlooked when it struggled with low productivity and high living costs.

Productivity was measured by the amount of money per capita, earned in a region. Nelson-Tasman was well below the national average of about $100,000.

"If we were looking at how the government had identified what a 'surge region' was - those regions to which they wanted to give extra impetus because they were struggling; places like Northland, East Cape and the West Coast, but actually if you look at the metrics of Nelson, we are also a surge region," Boswijk said.

Nelson-Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ali Boswijk.

Alison Boswijk believes the Top of the South region has been overlooked. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

She said from outside, Nelson and its diverse economy looked "really sweet", but it also had an ageing workforce, and an ageing population.

"A lot of people retire here who don't necessarily invest money beyond a property so we don't have money being used 'productively' in a way that could help the region."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said each application was considered on the merits of it benefiting New Zealand as a whole. It said the PGF was a limited fund and emphasis was given to areas of most need.

Mayor Guru said there was confusion around the different funding streams that had emerged. He appreciated they were well-meant but said it appeared some of the PGF funding had been morphed into the shovel-ready fund - the government's latter investment scheme aimed at kick-starting Covid-damaged economies.

"Everyone's thinking, 'we don't care what you call it, we just want the money to come so we can get stuff done'."

Boswijk said consistency over how the regions were viewed might help those who were questioning how the fund was allocated.

"For some government agencies we're lumped together as one and others we're not."

"I don't understand the rationale - it may just be the population but then you look at the West Coast, which is even smaller."

The Provincial Development Unit was still considering a wide range of applications for funding of projects in the Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough regions.

Projects being funded from the $53.3m include:

  • The New Zealand Wine Centre in Blenheim - $3.79m;
  • The Picton to Kaikōura Whale Trail - $18m;
  • Flood protection for Motueka River, Saxton Creek and Wairau River - $18m;
  • Nelson Slipway Redevelopment - $9.8m;
  • Kanuka Processing Facility - $700,000;
  • Apollo Aviation - $3m.
  • The Blenheim Art Gallery and Library has been allocated up to $11m
  • Another $3.7m of the One Billion Trees programme has been allocated to Te Tauihu.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs