Northland is doing nicely, thank you, from project funding announced by Shane Jones

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar had no problem answering the question he posed in a headline on a recent post: So who is benefiting from the pork barrel fund?

He referenced a TVNZ 1 News report which said

 … the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust will profit hugely from the taxpayer investment and critics argue that it’s not a good look.

The trust will be receiving $8 million from the government to plant trees and create 60 jobs for the people of Northland.

The trust’s website shows its acting chief executive and a trustee is Pita Paraone, recently retired NZ First MP.

The TV news item went on:

Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones gave nearly $5 million to a group he was involved with before he was a minister.

He was funding a cultural tourism project in Opononi, although he declared a conflict of interest.

He was further given $7.5 million for a prisoner rehabilitation programme run by a former Labour Party president who knows the minister well.

ACT Party leader David Seymour complained there are far too many deals on handshakes from this government.

But according to the TV One report:

Jones says all the deals are scrutinised by officials. He is in charge of a very large pot of taxpayer money with a billion dollars a year to spend and so far he’s only up to $126 million

He promises to tread carefully with millions more to spend.

Farrar nevertheless is caustic:

There seems to be a pattern as to how to get money from the pork barrel fund. It’s who you know.

National’s Paul Goldsmith has another word for and calls it a slush fund.  

Jones yesterday went south to announce the latest investments (or handouts, depending on your perspective) from the Provincial Growth Fund, the source of the largesse for regional development projects.

Dunedin City Council will receive $820,000 to complete a full feasibility assessment and development of a business case for the Dunedin Waterfront Project, which will include engineering, environmental and commercial feasibility.

“A revitalised waterfront will add to Dunedin’s appeal as a visitor destination,” Shane Jones said.

Another $60,000 will be invested in the development of an Economic Development Strategy for Otago, with the remainder of the funding coming from local and regional councils.

“This will allow the Otago Regional Economic Development Steering Group to build its capability to allow it to better assess long-term regional opportunities.

The country learned soon after the election of the new government that Jones would be responsible for spending $1 billion a year on the regions (over three years) through the Provincial Growth Fund and be in charge of the new Forestry Service, aiming to 1 billion trees over 10 years.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website says all provinces are eligible for funding, but

…Tairawhiti/East Coast, Hawke’s Bay, Tai Tokerau/Northland, Bay of Plenty, West Coast and Manawatu-Whanganui have been identified for early investment.

The Gisborne Herald fined this down to observe the fund “appears targeted at Northland and Gisborne so far…”

The newspaper commented:

The commitment of New Zealand First and Winston Peters to the regions of New Zealand now has a figure attached to it and it’s an impressive, many would say eye-watering, $1 billion a yea

These are the regions of New Zealand that have voted almost exclusively blue in recent years. So as well as Peters, and Labour, carrying through on election pledges to invest in the “neglected” provinces of New Zealand, we can see in this a play for more rural votes in future years.

On February 3 this year  a Beehive press statement declared the fund was open for business

Jones said then:

“Our first regional packages support the regions most neglected by the last government: in Northland, Tairawhiti-East Coast, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu-Whanganui and the West Coast of the South Island.

“We are providing an immediate boost to these areas by investing $61.7 million into forestry initiatives, tourism ventures, rail and roading projects, and supporting these regions develop their proposals further to help them get off the ground.”

Northland and the East Coast were the big winners from this first tranche of regional development spending.

The details showed an investment of  $17m in Northland, including support for two cultural centres in Opononi and Whangarei, $450,000 for a totara industry pilot to explore new forestry market, a new tourism hub in Kawakawa ($2.3m) and $9m to upgrade the Waipapa Intersection on SH 10 near Kerikeri.

The upgrade involves a roundabout being built near close to Jones’ home.

On March 15 Jones announced a provision of up to $5.8m over three years to allow a Bay of Plenty nursery to scale up production of forestry grade native seedlings.

Next day there was more good news for Northland, when Jones made two further announcements.

* The Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) will invest up to $5 million (subject to business cases) in three Northland wharves to boost the tourism sector and create new jobs and opportunities to the region.  The Government will work with Far North Holdings Ltd – the commercial arm of the Far North District Council – on developing business cases for significant upgrades at Paihia, Russell and Opua and ensuring due diligence is met.

* The Government will commit $1.7m to an upgrade of the Bay of Islands Airport in Kerikeri, subject to a detailed business case to be developed with Far North Holdings and due diligence.  The airport needs a new terminal to keep up with demand (around 96,000 people used it last year).

The Labour Party made plain its enthusiasm for the Provincial Growth Fund programme in a progress report it posted on June 5.

A quick browse through the list of investments affirms that Northland has done nicely, thank you.

An official list of investments can be found on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website.

Fifty-two projects were listed with total spending up to $137,307,225, when we did our sums at Point of Order earlier this week.

Eighteen of them were in Northland, where the commitments had reached $60,608,000.  That’s 44% of the total.

Those figures won’t be too seriously altered by the Otago investments announced yesterday.

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