Back in February, Prime Minister John Key came up with a bold and radical plan to end the recession and create jobs: a cycleway the length of New Zealand. As it became apparent that the plan was not a joke, and was in fact being taken seriously, I got curious: did the government have any backing for its claims that 3,700 jobs would be created? Had it done any cost-benefit analysis, or assessed the economic impact of the proposed cycleway to see if this was the best (or at least a non-stupid) way money could be spent? So, I did what I usually do when I get curious: I asked.
The short answer is that there was no realistic assessment of the costs and benefits of investing in this project compared to an alternative, like say adult education.
The advice released – an initial briefing (17 March), followup (2 April) and final Cabinet paper (20 April) – while full of claims of both short and long-term economic benefits, make no attempt to put a dollar figure on them.
This is pathetic as you can see when you read the documents. You can see why Bill English was reluctant to put it in the budget until forced to do so by his ‘visionary’ boss. The documents indicate that there may possibly be benefits at looking at something like this. There is nothing to indicate that there will be benefits. They have a vague indicator of costs on some immediate sub-projects, but these look like they are from the back of an envelope calculation.
It violates virtually every standard set for the expenditure of taxpayers’ money. There is no significant analysis of the benefits either to employment (the original reason) or to dollar value tourism.
Significantly in these documents I can see no mention of who is to maintain these cycleways after development. If it is something like DOC, then why is this not stated? Anyone who has been over tramping tracks or cycleways knows that there are significant upkeep costs. This needs to be factored into the costs of each project as a NPV (nett present value) or similar system to look at the whole costs of a project. It allows you to look at multiple projects and assess the longer-term benefits between the projects. It is a standard project management technique. This does not appear to have been done.
By the sound of these documents the sole purpose of the cycleways are focused on getting 3-4 projects started by June 30th “…to maintain momentum generated from the Employment Summit..”. I’d roughly translate that to “protect John Key’s arse”.
So the cycleway is looking increasingly like John Key dipping into taxpayer funds to cover his line of bullshit at the employment summit. There are no significant costings and finger in the sky assessments of benefits behind this decision. I wonder how long John Key thinks his poll ratings will last doing this type of poor business political practice.
I’d suggest that buying JK a better bicycle seat is a better (and a lot cheaper) way of protecting his arse than ripping off my taxes to protect his big mouth.
For some strange reason the Ministry of Tourism were extremely reluctant to release this information. As NRT says
(This post was brought to you by the Ombudsmen’s Office, who recognise a meritless OIA decline when they see it, and without whom I would never have received the documents it is based on)