While the economy is on pause under lockdown, the government is beginning to plan how to cope with the post-lockdown, post-tourism, post-export education world we will eventually find ourselves in. They’re planning a lot of infrastructure spending as economic stimulus, and have asked for proposals which can start the moment the lockdown ends. And they’ve signalled a more direct role for the government in construction – effectively reviving the old Ministry of Works:
Ministers are rushing to prevent the country’s construction sector hollowing out under lockdown.
However, they’ve also admitted the state’s role in construction will massively expand in a way unheard of in several generations. That could include turning Crown Infrastructure Partners into a new Ministry of Works-style government department.
Answering questions on whether the Ministry of Works would be revived at the end of the country’s Covid-19 recovery Twyford said he “wouldn’t want to rule out that more hands-on approach”, and Jones said he was strongly in favour of it.
“We’re receiving a great deal of advice. And I have to say quite a lot of senior identities in the infrastructure community have already put forward the notion of something akin to the Ministry of Works,” Jones said.
Good. Because the current way of doing this – contracting everything out to the private sector – doesn’t work. Instead of getting “efficiencies”, it turns out that we get screwed. Its been obvious for some time that it would be better value for the government to cut out the middle-leech and just build stuff directly, rather than paying for other people’s profit margins and ticket-clipping. Rebuilding the economy after the pandemic is a chance to start that.
Its also a chance to do some other things too. Pretty obviously, we need to make this a green rebuild, focused on clean energy, efficient buildings, and public transport, things which reduce our emissions rather than increase them. We should be expanding Auckland’s train network, extending Wellington’s commuter rail to Otaki, Levin, or Palmerston North, building wind farms to push Huntly out of the market, and starting a mass house-building scheme of zero-emission homes to use as state houses. These are all opportunities to create jobs and breathe some life into the economy, while building for the future rather than the past. And hopefully, the government will take them.