Not enough experience or action, too many committees and surprises - that was business leaders' verdict on the Coalition Government in the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey.

Unsurprisingly, the survey of 150 chief executives confirmed business confidence one year into the Coalition Government is wobbly, and in some policy areas, struggling to stay on its feet, but there were contradictions aplenty in their responses

Writing in the Mood of the Boardroom report, Deloitte New Zealand chief executive Thomas Pippos cites contradictory responses to some of the survey tax questions. For example 58 per cent of respondents support the R&D tax credit regime – but less than half, 43 per cent, don't plan to make use of it, and 51 per cent don't believe the regime will change behaviour in their organisations.

On a broader front, 59 per cent of respondents said the Coalition had worked to their expectations. Just 23 per cent said worse. Fifteen per cent said better than expected.


Read more: Government report card: CEOs rate performance of Cabinet Ministers

While some expected the influence of NZ First and Winston Peters to be problematic, others saw NZ First as a potentially moderating influence when it came to acknowledging the harmful impact on business confidence from union-led law reforms.

Read more: Winston Peters viewed as 'pleasant surprise' by business leaders
But generally, CEOs were united in citing the Coalition's lack of experience, "too many committees and not enough action" and unclear agenda.

The survey confirmed one overarching contradiction: the economy is showing the highest level of quarterly growth seen in the past two years but business confidence is sinking.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Bloomberg
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Bloomberg

The chief concern of CEOs was uncertainty – "general uncertainty about the impact and direction of current Government policies".

Read more: A Kiwi conundrum: business confidence continues to sink despite strong growth

The rest of the top five ranking factors also pointed to uncertainty: skills and labour shortages, regulation, employment law changes and transport infrastructure.

"The Government is trying to forge a better understanding with the business sector but they keep doing things that make us nervous," said an agribusiness boss.

Interview with Fletcher Building CEO and chair of Mercury NZ and The Warehouse Group. / Brett Phibbs

"Business copes, that's our job, but we are dealing in a bit of a fog," said a construction company leader.

For CEOs the single biggest factor that would assist their business remain internationally competitive from New Zealand, at 23.5 per cent, was Government/council policy. Skills and talent was next at 22.6 per cent and specific Government/council policy third at 14.8 per cent.

Pippos noted "though not irrelevant, the role of government in business confidence can easily be overstated".

That said, the Coalition's "oil and gas ban" provoked a strong response from chief executives, with some 77 per cent of respondents agreeing the Government should have waited until the Productivity Commission set its path to a low emissions future and taken that advice on board first.

Read more: NZ CEOs say Government jumped the gun on oil and gas ban

Finance Minister Grant Robertson's fiscal discipline against Budget bids by his colleagues resulted in "maintaining fiscal discipline" topping CEO ratings of Coalition key performance indicators at 3.03 out of 5. Regional development was rated second at 2.96 and international trade at 2.94.

Read more: Finance Minister Grant Robertson singled out as top performer by NZ CEOs

Recognised was the Coalition's "pragmatic" response to international trade, where it had surprised by devising an early fix and signing up to the new CPTPP.

Some expected the influence of NZ First and Winston Peters to be problematic. Photo / File
Some expected the influence of NZ First and Winston Peters to be problematic. Photo / File

But, said the head of a lobbying firm: "They over-promised and have under-performed in health and housing. They signed (CPTPP) which was great but have ignored China so far. Their immigration policies have destroyed our export education industry."

Robertson topped the survey's ministerial portfolio performance ratings with 3.62 out of 5. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was second on 3.3 and Foreign Minister Winston Peters third with 3.2.

Robertson's rating has yet to mirror the respect past surveys showed for National finance minister Bill English but throughout the survey it was clear CEOs viewed him as a considerable asset to the Coalition.

But asked if the Coalition had a co-ordinated plan of action to raise New Zealand's economic performance, 67 per cent of CEOs said no. Seven per cent said yes and 26 per cent were unsure.

Emotional response was on show when CEOs were asked if Robertson was on the right track with his radical plan to overhaul the way the annual Budget is reported, with the first Wellbeing Budget due next year.

Forty-four per cent said he was right to prioritise new living standard measures rather than more traditional measures such as GDP. About 30 per cent said they weren't convinced and 25 per cent weren't sure.