3 Sep 2020

Green School funding: James Shaw contradicts Chris Hipkins on implicit approval in leaked video

3:34 pm on 3 September 2020

A leaked video of last week's Green Party crisis call shows James Shaw claimed the controversial Green School funding was given "verbal sign-off" by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins.

The comments contradict Hipkins who's repeatedly stated he did not back the proposal.

RNZ has been sent footage of the Friday night Zoom meeting in which Shaw sought to assuage party members who were furious at his advocacy for a nearly $12 million funding package for the private Green School in Taranaki.

In the video clip, Shaw tells members that Hipkins "wasn't intimately involved in the decision" but gave it tacit approval in a conversation.

"He did, sort of, give at least a verbal sign-off to the project," Shaw said.

"He did say that - assuming everything else being equal - as long as the funding partner is the [New Plymouth District] Council, which it is, that he was okay with it."

Hipkins turned down RNZ's request for an interview, but, in a statement, said he made clear to Shaw the funding would not come out of the education sector's budget.

He acknowledged he also told the Greens co-leader: "Apart from that, do what you have to do."

Last week, Hipkins told reporters the school project was "not necessarily a project that [he] would've prioritised".

On Tuesday this week, he told Parliament he had a conversation with Shaw about the application at the end of July.

"I gave him feedback that from an educational portfolio perspective the school would not be a priority for investment," Hipkins said.

Hipkins had no formal role or responsibility for signing off on the $11.7m funding package as it comes out of the government's $3 billion war-chest for "shovel-ready projects", overseen by other ministers.

On the Green Party call, Shaw told members his support for the school funding was coloured by the NZ Upgrade announcement in January in which billions of dollars were committed to new roading projects. There has been an ideological battle between the governing parties in areas like transport, with Shaw making it clear back in January he thought the mix too heavily favoured roading, at the expense of other more Green initiatives.

The extent of his advocacy for the Green School was revealed this week: Shaw refused to sign off on at least 44 projects earmarked for $600 million of funding, unless it was given the green light.

Shaw has since apologised profusely to a range of people and organisations. Officials and the school are working on what will likely end up as a government loan.

In a statement, New Plymouth District Council chief executive Craig Stevenson said the council was not a funding partner for the Green School project and was not involved in the funding application.

He said that with any development in the district, its role was that of regulator for building and resource consents.

"In terms of the letter of support, the mayor's role is to advocate for investment from central government and that's why he writes dozens of letters of support for multiple groups, businesses and organisations to ensure Taranaki gets its fair share of New Zealand's funding pie."

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