Provincial Growth Fund troughers will be delighted to learn they are back in business (or some of them are).
They may not be so chuffed to learn that troughing has become commonplace and many more Kiwis are dipping into public funds through an array of programmes set up to revive an economy ravaged by Covid-19 and the government’s response to it.
The bigger the number of troughers, the smaller the serving for each of them, although this consideration perhaps is overcome by the printing of money, quantitative easing, and what-have-you.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones brought news of the resumption this week of Provincial Growth Fund projects around the country that were halted during Alert Level 4.
At Alert Level 3, more than 60 projects representing $439.8 million worth of investment are expected to get going again.
While we were digesting this news, Jones – in tandem with Kris Faafoi, Minister of Communications and Digital Media – threw out another announcement.
New investment in rural network capacity is aimed at helping lift the development and wellbeing of isolated communities as New Zealand’s economy recovers from Covid-19.
The statement said:
“The Government has allocated up to $15 million in savings from the Ultra-fast Broadband initiative to improve rural broadband capacity by:
- upgrading some existing rural mobile towers,
- upgrading wireless backhaul, which connects remote sites to central networks, and
- installing external antennae on households to improve coverage.
“With the impacts of COVID-19 seeing increasing numbers of New Zealanders using broadband for education, work and maintaining links with friends and whānau, connectivity is more important than ever before.”
Jones, speaking as Infrastructure Minister, said upgrading infrastructure is likely to be the fastest way to provide broadband to rural households where there is currently coverage but the towers are at or near capacity.
More information can be found here.
But back to the PGF and yesterday’s announcement.
The need to stimulate the lockdown-sapped economy loomed large in Jones’ rhetoric.
“The purpose of the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has always been to stimulate regional economies and create sustainable employment. That purpose is even more critical now, in these unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our regions will play a vital role in the recovery of the national economy so it is crucial we get people back to work safely as soon as possible and for PGF projects to continue to be rolled out,” Shane Jones said.
Jones reminded us the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) has approved funding for more than 470 projects.
While they are all at different stages, and not all involve physical works, they will all pump funds into their local economies, create jobs and revitalise their communities.
Work on PGF-funded projects that will get under way again under Alert Level 3 includes construction, manufacturing, horticulture, engineering and aquaculture.
He couldn’t resist mentioning his home patch, where he will be hoping PGF funding will stimulate electoral support as well as economic activity.
“In Northland, for example, construction will recommence on major construction projects such as like the Kaipara roading package, the Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei and water storage projects.”
But – fair to say – he did mention some other regions:
“On the West Coast, work will resume on repairs to 300m of Westport Airport seawall which was damaged by ex-Cyclone Fehi in 2018. In Taranaki, work resume on track improvements on the Taranaki Crossing. In addition, Rotorua Whakarewarewa Forest Project and Northland’s Waitangi Mountain Bike Park are seeking extra staff to help clear tracks that have overgrown during lockdown,” Shane Jones said.
Jones mentioned the strict health and safety protocols required under Alert Level 3, including appropriate social distancing. This means some projects won’t immediately be back to full capacity, but the PDU will continue to work with their project partners to accelerate work that stalled during lockdown.
Oh – and if your application for PGF handout was somewhere in the pipeline when the Covid-19 emergecny was imposed, good news.
The PDU is continuing to work through applications and projects to see where PGF money can be repurposed for initiatives that can contribute quickly to an economic recovery in the regions.
But it seems the PDU might be applying different criteria when deciding who to reward.
It will be focused on helping existing projects to accelerate their rollout.
Where progress is not likely in the immediate future consideration will be given to terminating contracts to allow funds to be better used.
“I expect to be able to take proposals for these repurposed funds to my Cabinet colleagues shortly,” Shane Jones said.
“In addition to the PGF, the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group, led by Crown Infrastructure Partners chairman Mark Binns, is continuing to whittle down a list of more than 2000 proposals totalling $125 billion that have been received since we put a call out for applications for shovel-ready projects.
Ministers are expected to receive a shortlist of potential pipeline projects in the next fortnight with the aim of getting them started as soon as possible.