Few respondents criticise Finance Minister Grant Robertson's goals — but they question the execution.
The Government's approach to doing everything through reviews has been cited as getting in the way of Grant Robertson's stewardship of the economy.
"Opening up multiple challenging conversations and establishing working groups without clear outcomes — or at a minimum directional outcomes — is creating uncertainty for both local and international investment," said a leading banker.
"We need certainty through policy completion."
In the 2019 Mood of the Boardroom survey, a little over half (54 per cent) felt Robertson was delivering credible economic fiscal management. But a significant number (26 per cent) were unsure and 17 per cent disagreed.
Those commenting on record (in the main) portrayed a positive view about Robertson's stewardship.
But Mainfreight's Don Braid warns, "A slowing economy may well test the current fiscal management.
He must find the courage to use the tools at his disposal to maintain our momentum."
This year's Herald survey did not directly canvass Robertson's Wellbeing Budget — which is seen as a world first. Instead, CEOs were asked to rate particular focuses in the Coalition's Year of Delivery alongside new Budget initiatives and the traditional focus on fiscal management.
The 2019 Budget departed from the normal practice of focusing on economic indicators such as GDP growth. Instead it emphasised spending on matters such as mental health, poverty and productivity.
In his Budget speech Robertson told Parliament: "Success is making New Zealand both a great place to make a living, and a great place to make a life".
Though few respondents criticised these goals, many were not impressed by the execution.
The LGFA's Craig Stobo said, "The Wellbeing budget was an important milestone, built on work by the previous government, but like much current policymaking it was large on sizzle and small on sausage.
The absence of knowledge of the base starting point for the four capitals and clear targets for improvement reinforces the notion that this government doesn't want to be measured on its progress."
A director noted, "it was a budget like any other. It is remarkable how quickly Grant Robertson has turned into Steven Joyce: overconfident to the point of dismissing any kind of criticism."
Simplicity's Sam Stubbs added, "it has fallen into a vacuum, and here is nothing else I can readily associate with his management, good or bad."
In contrast, the head of a professional services firm had a more sympathetic view. He says: "Credible in Wellbeing perspective but impacted by Reserve Bank actions".
This year's survey reveals considerable business angst about the Reserve Bank's approach to increasing bank capital and jawboning business to increase investment.
An auto firm boss said Robertson understands the role and importance of fiscal restraint. "But he is letting the RBNZ get out of control, which will be problematic in future.
"If we hit a recession, I am not sure Grant will know what to do".
This reflects another theme that emerged from the survey: Robertson's performance is hampered by others around him. Although respondents didn't always agree about who was doing the hampering.
"Holding the line on fiscal position, though the coalition dynamics lead to gross misallocation of resources. The central government structure leads to poor execution of the gross misallocation", says a power industry leader.
"Grant needs to be more visible — he seems to have let ministers splash the cash without a coherent story or big-picture narrative," said an energy boss.
But there was some ambiguity. "He hasn't necessarily done anything wrong but hasn't been bold. He is a good performer but caught in a framework of uncertainty", says Stevenson Group director Mark Franklin, neatly summing up a common perception.
"So far so good," said Carol Campbell of T&G Global.
But Auckland Business Chamber's Michael Barnett was unimpressed. "What he is doing is standard, ordinary. What is needed is the extra effectiveness of government spending."
What should be top of Robertson's priority list?
Chief executives say it is time that Finance Minister Grant Robertson loosens the purse strings when it comes to spending on infrastructure.
Some 39 of the 111 respondents to this open-ended question put infrastructure as the key priority they wanted Robertson to focus on.
In July, the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council recommended the Government resume work on 12 major roading projects that were put on hold after the Coalition took power in 2017.
Robert Scoines from Sanitarium Health Food Company wants to see investments in ports, roads and rail.
At Port of Tauranga, Mark Cairns says: "We desperately need more infrastructure capital. New Zealand has the balance sheet to do so."
Others noted with interest rates low — the OCR is at 1 per cent — the opportunity is there now to borrow and invest.
It is an issue that Robertson has under active discussion with officials as they look to expand investment in conjunction with the private sector through special purpose vehicles.
Some industry leaders are keen to get involved in Robertson's projects. A banking leader says: "Now that the government's books are strong, he shouldn't be afraid to reach out to the business community and enrol us for some bold and transformational social, environmental and economic initiatives."
"Invest in Auckland specifically," said a company director.
"The country and the Wellington machine need to fully understand the impact of Auckland on the country."
Some, like Terry Copeland from Federated Farmers, believe increased infrastructure spending will boost the economy. Others want to see more discipline and a greater focus on getting things done.
"Drive his colleagues to understand the big gap between wishing for projects to happen and actually getting them in the ground," suggested a transport boss.
Among other suggested priorities were a focus on lifting New Zealand's lamentable productivity, more policies that encourage and reward growth and investment, and greater engagement with business.
Said MinterEllisonRuddWatts's financial partner Lloyd Kavanagh: "Grow productivity. Currently we are on a road which does not provide the wealth the country need to look after our people in a first world level."
Boardroom backers for policy costings unit
National is against the idea of a Policy Costings Unit to monitor the government's fiscal strategy, but it is backed by the OECD and 62 per cent of our Mood of the Boardroom panel. Just 12 per cent of respondents are against the idea.
The unit will be set up as an independent office of Parliament and will provide costings of political party policies ahead of an election.
Clear support for the idea comes from Oliver Hartwich, executive director of the NZ Initiative. He says the concept was a New Zealand Initiative policy recommendation in the organisation's 2014 report: Guarding the Public Purse: Faster growth, greater fiscal discipline.
Foodstuffs North Island CEO Chris Quin says: "If it really works, it could make a difference".
An agribusiness boss says the plan: "makes sense".
Respondents worry about the independence of a new watchdog, this echoes some of Bridges' objection to the plan.
An energy company CEO says he supports the idea: "So long as it is independent of the Government whoever is in power".
Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie agrees that it should help, but wonders how the unit can stay independent.
Peter Thompson from Barfoot and Thompson makes a similar point: "As long as it is fair to all parties — big and small and everyone is aware of the rules."
The boss of a government relations firm sees potential for bias: "Only if it is independent and that's not a given. Putting a left-leaning economist in charge won't do the job".
Paul Glass from Devon Funds Management frames this as "It depends on how political it is".
An investment banker calls it a cynical political device. "The politics of this body will be driven by the party in office at the time of appointments."
Away from questions of bias, an agribusiness CEO complains: "We pay for it" and an IT company head is concerned about "another silo". Craig Stobo, chair of the Local Government Funding Agency worries about duplication.
He says: "Why can't Treasury provide this in a transparent manner already?
"More monitoring agencies monitoring other departments is nuts."
Government cyber breaches
Almost half, 49 per cent, of the bosses surveyed say the Treasury Budget leak and the exposure of passport details at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage have reduced their confidence in government sector cyber security.
But these breaches were also a wake-up call for the private sector suggests a property company boss — "There but for the grace of not being in the public eye go many of us."
"Cyber security is an increasing risk. What is the ability to manage it?" asks Vector chair Dame Alison Paterson.
The head of a professional services firm is philosophical — "S*#t happens". But an IT company boss was scathing: "These are fundamental errors that should not have happened under any circumstances.
New Zealand government is paying ridiculous money to independent IT contractors and these fundamental risks or errors should have been identified in testing."
Several felt the Budget leak was less a technology issue than poor management practice, even though its mischaracterisation by former Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf shrouded him in controversy on the eve of his departure to be Ireland's central banker.
Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie says the issues were about "general appropriate management of IT environments".
Four in 10 respondents say the high- profile data breaches haven't reduced their confidence in government cyber security: 11 per cent are unsure.