Monday, July 27, 2009

The amazing shrinking cycleway

Back in February, John Key came up with a bold plan to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and end the recession: a cycleway the length of New Zealand. Today, he announced the first possible components of it - a series of local cycleways [PDF] in Northland, the Waikato, the central North Island, Whanganui, Marlborough and Southland. In the process, the cycleway has shrunk from a single national trail to a series of interconnected local "great rides", and the number of jobs it is expected to create from 3,700 to a paltry 300. Meanwhile, more than 1,300 people a week are signing up for the dole. So, for the whole of this year, the cycleway should generate as many jobs as were lost on Monday and Tuesday this week.

But it gets better. According to the cabinet paper [PDF] on the issue, projects were supposed to be chosen and assessed by an advisory group. But according to the Commerce Committee's report on the estimates for Vote Tourism [PDF], the group has not yet been appointed, and isn't expected to be until the end of August? So how were these proposals chosen? They seem to have been pulled out of the Prime Minister's arse (and at this stage, it is worth noting that every single one of them is in a National-held electorate). Early advice on the project [PDF] noted that one of the risks was "being seen to be inequitable" in the choice of early projects, and that

Announcing early projects by name before proper assessment may compromise the chance to negotiate later.
The Prime Minister seems to have ignored this warning. By naming these projects, he has effectively committed to fund them, regardless of whether they later turn out to be unsuitable, and regardless of whether other projects are a better investment of the governments money (e.g. produce more jobs and economic activity per dollar spent).

I have already submitted an OIA request to find out whether (unlike the scheme as a whole) any of these projects have been subjected to any cost-benefit analysis. The response should be illuminating.