Gordon Campbell on the dumping of bad news at Christmas

Gordon Campbell on the dumping of bad news at Christmas

By Gordon Campbell

If the government really did have good tidings of great joy you can bet it wouldn’t be strewing them about at Christmas time – which is, traditionally, the dumping ground for terrible news that the government fervently hopes the public will be too distracted to notice. And so verily this Christmas Eve we learn of (a) the explosion of costs to the taxpayer and ratepayer of the vile SkyCity convention centre in Auckland and that (b) the government’s flagship MBIE “super-ministry” run by its Minister of Everything is a disaster zone of incompetence and mismanagement. MBIE is a Titanic looking for an iceberg, or so it would seem.

First, the Sky City bad news.

SkyCity yesterday lodged its resource consent application for the centre, which it’s building in return for concessions such as extra gaming machines worth as much as $42 million a year in additional profits.
Announcing the application, SkyCity chief Nigel Morrison revealed the cost of the convention centre had jumped [from $402 million] to between $470 million and $530 million.

Then there is that ‘super-ministry’ of Business, Innovation and Employment that’s driving the government’s economic agenda.

As RNZ put it :

Out of 32 areas of review, the report highlighted 22 that needed development, and five that were weak….Only five areas were considered well placed for future performance, and none achieved the top rating of strong. MBIE rated weak on leadership and governance; workforce development; improving efficiency and effectiveness, and financial and risk management.

Wow. That’s harsh. It sounds like a shambles with little hope for improvement, given that in only 5 out of 32 areas of performance was MBIE deemed to be well positioned to do better in future. Evidently, we’re talking about something far more serious than the teething problems involved in putting several former ministries under one big umbrella. You can read the full report here :

There’s the usual jargon. Providing “ thought leadership” is apparently even better than providing the plain old “ leadership” which in the past, must have been done by blind instinct. But this next section kind of freezes the blood when you recall that the Business Growth Agenda (BGA) is the government’s masterplan for the economy development of this country. For starters, the report reminds us that MBIE is the main driver of the BGA :

MBIE has a central role to play, as a key economic advisor with primary responsibility for providing leadership on the microeconomic elements of the government economic growth agenda (currently the BGA) and as a Ministry with direct responsibility for delivering large parts of that agenda.

It sounds at first as if everything is turning out nice :

Government has recently published its Progress Report on the 346 actions that make up the BGA. It shows significant progress over the 12 months to November 2013, with 42% of these actions completed, a further 34% being implemented and only 22% still ‘in progress’. There were only three new actions added during this period.

But uh oh :

While each of these actions will help achieve the BGA goals, and the Report records significant progress on these actions, there is no sense of the extent to which these actions are contributing, or will be sufficient, to achieve the BGA goals.

Hmmm. So we’re pedalling off somewhere at a great rate of knots, but we don’t know if we’re going in the right direction. (‘There is no sense of the extent to which these actions are contributing, or will be sufficient,..) Which makes it really hard to make rational judgments :

That makes it difficult to prioritise, to learn what is most effective and to identify and size the need for additional action. While estimating contribution and sufficiency will always be a matter of judgement, officials leading this process are making this judgement in formulating their advice to Ministers, even if only implicitly. It would be helpful to make such judgements explicit in order to subject them to contest and refinement.

Indeed, it seems unlikely that the BGA goals will be delivered, given current course and speed, despite the very real progress on the BGA action plan…..

Great. So we’re making progress on the BGA action plan. We just don’t know if we’re doing the right thing, going in the right direction, and will be able to deliver what the plan says it will, or be able to rationally assess any of the above – and in any case, it won’t be on time. The outlook seems dim :

To be confident of delivering, MBIE would need to be better placed to ensure that both the recovery we are starting to see will be sustained and that longer term trend output performance will be significantly better than has been achieved in the past…. That, in turn, is likely to require a more transformative business strategy from MBIE (see the business strategy and the changes in operating model required to bring that to life).

Right. Now I get that right, it means that there’s a business plan to activate the operating model to kickstart the business strategy to implement the agenda to enhance the ‘longer term trend output performance’ that will – with a bit of luck ! – sustain the economic recovery that will bring good tidings of great fortune to all of God’s creatures, big and small. That makes us all feel a whole lot better. So….have a happy Christmas and remember MBIE in your prayers.

New Laura Marling
As Christmas comes upon us, there is news of a new album by Laura Marling now a veteran of 24 years old with about five terrific albums to her name – and yes, the Joni Mitchell comparisons are still entirely valid. Here’s the first track “ Short Movie” off the new album

And for old times sake, from five years ago, here’s her live version of “Goodbye England Covered in Snow”…

And hey, just because it’s a great song, “Sophia”


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