Peter Nowak: Grand ideas for growth, innovation require solid plan

The Growth and Innovation Framework is a great idea, but you get the impression from looking at its results so far that it's a half-hearted one based on airy-fairy, pie-in-the-sky goals that the Government isn't really serious about.

Take the ICT targets: The GIF taskforce wants 100 companies with a profit of $100 million by 2012, from the 18 currently. That would take some pretty miraculous growth.

So the HiGrowth Project is founded to spur that along. Yet HiGrowth's executive director, Garth Biggs, spends only two days a week on the job, while the rest of his organisation consists of one full-timer and another colleague who works three days a week. And they don't even have an office. The future of New Zealand's ICT sector is being planned in cafes around the country.

It's not that HiGrowth is asking for more funding - in fact, Biggs is happy with where the group is at. But really, how much of a commitment to shifting New Zealand towards a knowledge-based economy does this indicate? Shouldn't HiGrowth be getting more funding, at least enough for an office? Let's at least put on a show here, people. Or is this really the point of the GIF - that it's all about putting on a show?

Consider the biotechnology taskforce's report, which is high on goals but very, very low on specifics. The taskforce's original targets are similarly pie-in-the-sky: triple the number of biotech organisations, a fivefold increase in employment and core companies, quadruple the export revenue - all by 2012.

In its year and a half of existence, the GIF taskforce has taken some solid steps in helping the biotech sector, including getting regulatory obstacles removed and the establishment of important venture capital prospects and ties with Australia.

But what about those specific goals? The report makes no mention of a single employee being hired or a single export revenue dollar being added. That means either the report authors overlooked or omitted these figures, or more probably, there hasn't been any significant progress towards those lofty goals to speak of.

Then there's the design sector. The taskforce's targets here are similarly ambitious in seeking to improve export earnings by $500 million over the next five years. But its main reported successes are a new website, a three-day conference in Auckland, and a series of audits that test the design awareness and capabilities of companies. Not a word about exports.

Only the screen production taskforce seems on track to achieving its main goal: sustainable foreign exchange earnings of $400 million a year. The sector pulled in an average of $300 million over the past five years, which means it's close. However, to paraphrase the Screen Council's warning about relying too much on big-budget productions, you can only count on Peter Jackson for so much.

In the grand scheme of things, it's always nice to aim high, but it's pointless to have targets beyond your capabilities.

Is it too early to judge the taskforces' progress? Perhaps. They are scheduled for a full review by the Ministry of Economic Development in June next year. But now is as good a time as any for a rethink of the main goals, given that an election looms. New Zealand's economic future should be front and centre in any election, and every political party should have clearly defined - and achievable goals - in the forefront of its collective mind.

Is the whole GIF concept worthwhile? Definitely. If New Zealand continues to rely on agriculture alone for its economic wellbeing, it's heading for a whole lot of trouble.

Jim Anderton, the Minister of Economic Development, is in charge of this whole thing and says that if the 2006 evaluations show the GIF is producing the goods - and his Government continues - the investment won't simply be maintained, it will be increased.

Why wait? If either Labour or National are serious about this, they should immediately pledge more to the whole GIF concept. They should at least promise to give those poor HiGrowth guys an office.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 23 Aug 2014 07:54:59 Processing Time: 830ms