4 Aug 2020

Shane Jones' 10,000 job creation claim under scrutiny

6:47 am on 4 August 2020

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is crowing over cracking the target of creating more than 10,000 jobs through the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).

 Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones speaks to media during a press conference on Budget 2020 delivery day at Parliament May 14, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones. Photo: Pool / Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

He said a detailed stocktake has found 13,217 people have been employed so far following PGF investments.

But National said the minister was being disingenuous, as these figures did not show the true number of jobs created or the breakdown of what was full time or contract jobs.

Jones said the PGF outstripping the job numbers it hoped to achieve "speaks volumes about the fund's success".

"So just at the level of the human face of the PGF, this figure is not only handsome it's an affirmation of everything we set out to do," Jones said.

Until now, the Provincial Development Unit only collected data about the number of workers employed on a given project over the last month.

For example, figures for May show a total of 2727.

But with growing demands from both journalists and the opposition for more details Jones got MBIE officials to ring every fund recipient to find out how many people they had employed.

"If a minister who is a steward of such a large amount of money is made to look evasive then it's not a good look for the public seeking more confidence and it's not a good look personally either.

"So, I cracked the whip to go and amass this treasure trove of data," Jones said.

To head off what he calls "doubting Thomas types" Jones had the stocktake reviewed by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

However, it highlighted some shortcomings, most notably - that the figure was a count of people working on projects, not the number of jobs created.

Jones said he was not being disingenuous claiming the 10,000 jobs milestone.

"I'm not too hung up on looking at this purely through the font of an FTE (full-time equivalent). It is going to endow and it has endowed regions with new infrastructure which leads to productivity and in that journey the lives of 13,000 people have been positively touched in an economic way," Jones said.

Michael Woodhouse

National Party regional economic development spokesperson Michael Woodhouse. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

But National's Michael Woodhouse said Jones was "gilding the lily".

"They have no idea how many jobs have been created and the reason is they didn't ask the applicants, so I think it's disingenuous to say that many jobs have been created and they're doing random surveys to pluck any sort of job number out of the air to make it look as if they've achieved an arbitrary goal," Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse said while $2.7 billion of the fund had been committed, only $339 million had actually made it out the door.

He said sustainable job creation was one of the central goals of the PGF and the fact Jones had to commission this kind of stocktake, and so late in the term, was telling.

"The public is paying an extraordinary price for these sorts of initiatives, they need to know they're getting a return on that investment and at the moment, all they're doing is seeing Shane Jones wandering around cutting ribbons in places he thinks is going to be good for New Zealand First and as I say, the taxpayer deserves better than that," Woodhouse said.

Grey District mayor Tania Gibson

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson. Photo: Supplied

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said the fund had been great for her region.

The West Coast has been allocated just under $180m and has so far had 518 jobs.

Gibson said the planned $18m Pounamu Pathway and visitor centre was a spark of hope for businesses in the CBD.

But she said red tape had stopped projects from starting yet.

"Well that's the thing, we still have to get those projects off the ground to do the job creation ... so we've got a lot of work to do now to make that happen. It's not always as easy as it sounds," she said.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little also believed the PGF had been a success.

Wairoa got just $6.1m to help rebuild the town centre and $9m to better digital connections for business as well as roading and skills and employment initiatives.

Little could not say exactly how many jobs had been created but said the fund was about more than that.

"Social, economic, cultural and environmental that we're able to tick off and it makes Wairoa a much better place to live.

"So even if your jobs haven't been as many as they thought, but I believe Wairoa has been really successful, it's just people feeling a little bit better about themselves about getting things done," Little said.

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