It's been called a slush fund, providing only jobs for the boys, but with the government's Provincial Growth Fund well past the half way mark, is the multi-billion dollar investment into regional New Zealand making a difference?
The PGF was one of the first major announcements of the Labour / New Zealand First coalition government. A $3 billion cash injection over three years. A tourniquet for the regions in crisis. High unemployment, low productivity, an exodus of young and skilled workers were all major issues facing the provinces.
But from day one, the Fund and its leader, the self-proclaimed Champion of the Regions, Shane Jones, have copped criticism. National has been like the border collie, always nipping at the heels of the sheep.
First there were the allegations of corruption. National accusing the Minister of only giving money to people close to Labour and New Zealand First. Then came the questions around the 10,000 jobs the PGF would create.
According to Robert Pigou, Head of the Provincial Development Unit which administers the fund, the scheme is delivering results.
They've received over $5b worth of applications in 20 months and committed $2.5b of the $3b available.
The job count as at August was sitting at around 1850, and while that's only around a fifth of those promised, Mr Pigou says they're on track. “The jobs aren't created overnight, it takes time for construction projects to go through the planning, design and tender process.”
Mr Pigou says it's important to remember that job creation is only one measure of what's deemed a success in supporting regional development. "We've got a large portion of the fund, in excess of the $100m allocated towards skills training and development, for people who are really struggling to get into the workforce."
Ruapehu Alpine Lifts and its 'Sky Waka' gondola is one of the PGF's beneficiaries. The fund not only helped build the facility but Mr Pigou says it galvanised local communities and increased a sense of confidence. "I've seen local and regional councillors sitting around with senior community leaders and iwi talking about projects in their region. It's the first time in 25 to 30 years there's been that level of collaboration and support at a regional level."
With a little over 12 months to go Robert Pigou says you just can't ignore the positive impact the PGF is having on people's lives and communities and you can’t help but feel excited about the future.