Finance Minister Grant Robertson is the top performing Cabinet Minister in the eyes of New Zealand chief executives.
In the Herald's 2020 Mood of the Boardroom Election Survey, chief executive respondents rated his performance as finance minister at 4.18/5. This is the highest rating in the Herald survey since 2016 when CEOs scored then National Finance Minister Bill English at 4.51/5.
Just one respondent rated his performance as "not impressive".
Drilling down into the survey results, more chief executives scored Robertson's performance as "very impressive" — some 39.6 per cent, than any other Cabinet Minister, including Jacinda Ardern who was second-rated on this survey with an overall average of 3.91/5 with 33.7 per cent of respondents scoring her performance as "very impressive."
The Ministers — which included Ministers outside Cabinet — were rated on a score of 1-5 where 1=not impressive and 5=very impressive.
Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi, who was the highest rated Minister in 2019, came in this year at third place with a 3.46/5 rating. "Faafoi has saved the blushes of the Government by listening to the business community," said a lobbying firm boss.
There has been an element of Ministerial crowd-out due to the Covid-19 crisis where the Prime Minister and Finance Minister have had more media time than colleagues.
"Most Ministers beyond Ardern and Robertson (and perhaps Parker) are generally over-shadowed and have little presence in the public media," said a wine firm boss. "That is not a criticism but rather a function of the significant events dominating media and public attention."
An investment funds firm boss summed up: "The PM struggles from having a weak team, with only a couple of standouts.
"They will be better for the experience however and with stronger leadership driving accountability from the PM, they can improve."
"Reflecting on my ratings it is clear there is daylight between the performance of the PM and most of her Ministers," added Precinct Properties chair Craig Stobo.
Irrespective of the dominance of key Ministers there are criticisms.
Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid said, "not enough of these Ministers have acted with energy or decisiveness, nor supported or backed the leadership team well enough."
"I don't see a wide range of Cabinet Ministers making progress in their portfolios. Some of the stronger Ministers are very capable but look overloaded with multiple portfolios," added Beca CEO Greg Lowe.
The Cooperative Bank CEO David Cunningham maintained there were just five capable Labour politicians: Ardern, Robertson, Faafoi, Little and O'Connor.
National Party rhetoric about the Coalition Cabinet containing "17 empty seats" appears to have resonated with some CEOs. "The kitchen cabinet has been stuck with the fools and the bewildered.
This is a Cabinet seriously lacking in depth," said an investment firm boss.
A tech firm head commented there was an overwhelmingly disappointing line-up of ineffectual, inexperienced and incompetent ministers."
Winston Peters has slipped down the Cabinet rankings in 2020, rated at 2.47/5 on his performance as deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
This year he was out-rated by two NZ First colleagues Ron Mark (Defence) at 2.69/5 and Tracey Martin (Children) 2.60/5.
But in 2018, the CEOs taking part in that year's Herald survey ranked him at number three in the Cabinet on 3.23/5 behind top-ranked Grant Robertson (3.62/5) and Jacinda Ardern (3.3/5). By 2019, Peters' ranking had slipped to sixth place at 2.92/5.
The Green Party has no MPs within the Cabinet — they are in a support and confidence arrangement with Labour.
But several of their Ministers "outside the Cabinet" rate higher with the business sector than some Labour Cabinet Ministers. Co-leader James Shaw is fifth-ranked Minister overall on the 2020 Herald CEOs Survey, Eugenie Sage is 13th and Julie Anne Genter is 17th.
Covid response seen as Coalition's big success
The Coalition received its highest marks from CEOs for its management of New Zealand's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the 2020 Mood of the Boardroom CEOs Election Survey, chief executive respondents rated the Coalition's Covid-19 response at 3.59/5 on a scale where 1= not impressive and 5= very impressive.
They were asked to assess the Coalition's performance on a range of indicators over its three-year term in office.
Managing the response to Covid-19 is also one of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's key KPIs where she was scored highly by chief executives.
Vector chair Dame Alison Paterson said the events of 2020, the mosque attacks and other extraordinary events tended to swamp other assessments.
"Had it not been for Covid, which is distorting the picture, the Government's performance on delivery in three years has been poor," added a funds firm head.
Predictably, the Coalition was marked down on its inability to make progress on two of Labour's 2017 campaign promises: Addressing the housing shortage and affordability issues (1.63/5) and progressing light rail in Auckland (1.54/5). "This is where the Government has not lead well," said a tech head. "The housing commitment of three years ago, fail. The child poverty stats and suicide rates are at an all-time high."
"On most of the policy issues the Coalition Government asked to be rated on they have done very poorly — most obviously child poverty and housing affordability," said a bank chair.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson was rated the Coalition Government's highest individual performer (see above). When it came to maintaining fiscal responsibility — an area which is seen as Robertson's core strength — CEOs rated the Coalition 2.98/5), slightly down on last year's rating.
"Grant Robertson's fiscal performance pre-Covid was good," said a tech director. "However, the government support for Covid needs to be more focused on building sustainable economic performance and not just funding consumption."
Other areas where the Coalition received pass marks were taking mental health seriously (3.01/5, supporting Maori and Pasifika aspiration (2.96/5) and addressing the climate change challenge through the Zero Carbon legislation (2.77/5)
The Labour-NZ First coalition were also rated well on their maintenance of strong international relationships coming in at 3.25/5 in a nod to the work of Ardern and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters. Ardern, as NZ's chief diplomat, has focused on maintaining a workable relationship with China. Peters has made significant inroads with the US. Making progress on international trade agreements — a tough ask in the protectionist environment — was marked 2.78/5 despite the difficulties of actually nailing deals.
Overshadowing the Coalition's performance are questions of competency and the ability to execute where it received a 1.84/45 rating. "The Coalition has been weak in the delivery of their key policy priorities — to some extent excused by Covid," said an F&B director. "A major weakness is the ability to engage and mobilise the private sector. Statist tendencies are very strong and will greatly limit NZ progress if continued."
Ardern did not expect to form the Government and it shows," said company director and former National Finance Minister Ruth Richardson. "The bench is thin, the rookies have been abysmal and the rabid have had too much sway.
The core promises of transformation have not been met, most damagingly in child welfare and housing. "Budget slogans trumpeting welfare are sick spin in the face of mounting poverty and homelessness."
There is some sentiment that there is not sufficient consultation with business compared to the prior National-led Government and that the difficulties of coalition politics between Labour and NZ First had hampered implementation — particularly on Labour's core policies.
Coalition performance in key areas
Management of NZ's response to Covid-19 pandemic: 3.59/5
NZ's place in the world
Maintenance strong international relationships: 3.25/5
Maintaining fiscal responsibility: 2.98/5
Addressing climate change challenge: 2.77/5
Room for improvement
Transforming the economy: 1.76/5
2017 election commitments
Addressing housing shortage: 1.63/5
Ratings: NZ's response to Covid-19 (3.59/5); Strong international relationships (3.25/5); Mental health (3.01/5); Fiscal responsibility (2.98/5); Maori and Pasifika aspiration (2.96/5); International trade agreements (2.78/5); Climate change (2.77/5); Regional Development (2.46/5); Immigration policies (2.29/5); Children's wellbeing (2.27/5); Consultation with business (2.12/5); move to fairer tax (2.12/5); Policy execution (1.84/5); Transport constraints (1.77/5); Economic transformation (1.76/5); Housing shortage (1.63/5) and Auckland light rail (1.54/5).
How the Coalition fared
This full list includes both Cabinet Ministers and Ministers outside the Cabinet:
1. Grant Robertson (Finance) 4.18/5
2. Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister) 3.91/5
3. Kris Faafoi (Commerce) 3.46/5
4. Andrew Little (Justice) 3.24/5
5. James Shaw (Climate Change) 3.15/5
6. Chris Hipkins (Health/Education) 3.12/5
7. Megan Woods (Energy/Housing) 3.07/5
8. David Parker (Trade/Environment) 3.04/5
9. Ron Mark (Defence) 2.69/5
10. Damien O'Connor (Agriculture) 2.67/5
11. Stuart Nash (Revenue/Small Business) 2.66/5
12. Tracey Martin (Children 2.60/5)
13. Eugenie Sage (Conservation) 2.57/5
14. Winston Peters (Deputy PM/Foreign Affairs) 2.47/5
15. Peeni Henare (Civil Defence) 2.38/5
16. Carmel Sepuloni (Social Development) 2.37/5
17. Julie Anne Genter (Women) 2.37/5
18. Nanaia Mahuta (Local Govt.) 2.2/5
19. Jenny Salesa (Building & Construction) 2.16/5
20. Aupito William Sio (Pacific Peoples) 2.15/5
21. Poto Williams (Community & Volunteer) 2.06/5
22. Shane Jones (Regional Development /Infrastructure) 1.89/5
23. Willie Jackson (Employment) 1.80/5
24. Phil Twyford (Transport) 1.61/5
25. Kelvin Davis (Tourism) 1.59/5.