Talk “planning” and people inevitably hark
back to the New Zealand Planning Council – creature of the ’70s whose goal in life was to try and look ahead to where New Zealand wanted to be, check where it was and devise ways of closing the gap. Its last (1986-91) chair, Gary Hawke, now professor of economic history at Victoria University notes that its role has been largely superceded by the fact that forward planning has now been built firmly into public sector management through such legislation as the Fiscal Responsibility, Public Finance and State Sector Acts.
He notes that one of Council’s early themes was, in fact, the need to move away from centralised control and put “more markets” into planning processes – theme that has continued.
Markets undoubtedly make good masters, says Institute of Economic Research director Alex Sundakov. “The huge advantage of the market over plan is that the market tries zillion things and one of them may work, whereas plan tries one thing and if it doesn’t work you’re stuffed. That’s just the nature of these processes.”
However, that’s not to say there isn’t whole lot of planning constantly going on in central government that is “critically influential in how New Zealand develops”, says Sundakov. Issues such as harmonisation of regulatory structures with Australia, what sort of business/fiscal environment will companies be operating in at home, the country’s physical infrastructure… “a lot of public service effort goes into strategic planning”. To suggest otherwise is, he says, misunderstanding of what governments do.
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