Government Minister Shane Jones attacked public servants because he was frustrated there had been no progress on an apprenticeship scheme that would help young people in a small North Island town.

Jones, the Regional Economic Development Minister, met Wairoa Mayor Craig Little on Sunday after Little asked why there had been no progress on an announcement Jones made on November 22 last year.

Jones had announced a grant from the Regional Growth Fund of $150,000 to get the building apprentice scheme going in the town.

"I met with him on Sunday night, only to be told my grand gesture and my visit to Wairoa had caused zero to happen.

Advertisement

"I felt pretty stink that I, as the provincial champion, couldn't even deliver for him," Jones told the Weekend Herald.

"It was a wake-up call for me and it's a wake-up call for every part of the system that has to be deployed to address regional disparities. There are no excuses.

"If I'm going to be judged publicly, if I'm going to be pilloried in the clear light of day, that lashing is going to be spread around."

Jones complained that bureaucracy slowed down the process of getting projects off the ground.

He had a warning for public servants who didn't lift their game. "I realise that we have the Westminster system. After the next election, if I don't get what I want, we're going to have the Axminster system."

Jones, who is in charge of distributing the $1 billion per year Regional Growth Fund, will go to State Services Minister Chris Hipkins next week with his idea that ministers should be able to pick their own public service bosses, rather than the State Services Commissioner.

He returned from a trip to Australia last week saying divisions between the bureaucracy and politicians there had been softened and ministers were able to appoint their own choices to head their departments.

Hipkins has said Jones, a New Zealand First MP, is welcome to discuss the idea with him but it's not Government policy.

Advertisement

But Jones has the backing of some regions which will benefit from some of his big announcements.

Taranaki will receive up to $20 million from the Provincial Growth Fund for various projects.

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said he had seen the kind of inertia Jones described.

"I do agree with him that there are certainly areas where the Government can certainly speed up. If they could inject the same sort of sense of urgency that you see in many private organisations.

"The Wellington culture is extremely risk-averse, sometimes to the point where they're just afraid to make decision," he said.

Far North Mayor John Carter, whose region is the beneficiary of announcements on an airport upgrade at Kerikeri and wharf upgrades at Paihia, Opua and Russell, also backed Jones.

"I commend him for his comments. We're frustrated with the rules and regulations we have to put up with as local government, and quite honestly same for the community.

"We've just got to keep putting the pressure on and work together and hopefully we'll get some of these [projects] across the line."

Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said he could understand Jones's impatience but there was often a lag in progress when governments changed over.

"At the coalface, there's a lot of people doing a lot of hard work."

He said his experience with the public sector had been mostly positive.

"We've been working closely with an MBIE contractor and it's been absolutely fantastic … and there has been some thinking outside the square, which is exciting and not what you always anticipate the public service doing."

The wider Whanganui region has been granted $6m from Jones's fund so far, of which $3m will be for upgrading Whanganui Port. McDouall estimated that it would take at least five years to complete the work on the port.

List of projects announced by Shane Jones

November 22

• $150,000 seed fund for a building apprentice scheme in Wairoa

February 23

• The new $1 billion per annum Provincial Growth Fund officially launched in Gisborne

• The development of an Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy covering rail, road, coastal shipping and infrastructure including ports

• $8.75 million to reopen the Wairoa-Napier line for logging trains, upgrade the Whanganui line for mainline locomotives carrying exports and feasibility studies for Kawerau, Southland and New Plymouth regional rail projects.

• One Billion Trees programme underway

• $1 million towards two Great Rides – the West Coast Wilderness Trail and the Old Ghost Rd trail

• $100,000 to help Punakaiki develop a master plan to future-proof the township.

• $350,000 to help establish waste-to-energy plant in the Buller District (on hold)

• $17.5 million to help create jobs, address infrastructure deficits, diversify the regional economy and enhance tourism opportunities in Northland.

• Support for two cultural centres in Opononi and Whangarei, a Tōtara industry pilot to explore a new market in the forestry sector, the construction of a new tourism hub in Kawakawa and a long-awaited roading project.

• $6 million towards revitalisation of the Whanganui Port and upgrade of the town's rail line.

• $8.6 million in Gisborne and Hawke's Bay to immediately boost tourism and forestry opportunities.

• Tourism package including $2.3 million to redevelop Gisborne Inner Harbour and $1 million toward a programme to commemorate the first encounters between Māori and Europeans.

• $200,000 to kick-start the creation of a $20 million Wood Processing Centre of Excellence in Gisborne

March 15

• $5.8 million over three years to upgrade Minginui Nursery in Bay of Plenty to provide seedlings for One Billion Trees project

April 6

• Taranaki Action Plan: Up to $20 million to help future-proof the Taranaki region by diversifying its economy, creating additional jobs and leveraging off the strong base the region has established through its oil, gas and agricultural sectors.

Shane Jones controversies:

April 26: Jones complains that bureaucrats slow down big projects and he wants ministers to be able to appoint public service bosses.

April 5: Jones attacks NZX-listed companies The Warehouse, Restaurant Brands (KFC) and Air NZ, calling them "anti-Kiwi" for closing of threatening to close in Northland.

March 21: Jones doubles down on Air NZ attacks, saying the chairman should be sacked and that the CEO should butt out of politics.

March 20: Jones warns Air NZ to stop shutting down its regional links after it stopped flights to Kapiti airport. Says Kiwis treated better by second-hand car dealers than the regional airline.

Feb 28: Jones's $3b regional growth fund grants $350k to scheme linked to a businessman being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

Dec 5: Jones's proposal to introduce work-for-the-dole scheme dismissed by Prime Minister because it means they will not be paid the minimum wage.

The RMA

New Zealand First voted against three rounds of resource management reforms in 2009, 2013, and 2017. The first two rounds of reforms in particular were designed to speed up consents for medium-sized and large projects.

Jones was a Labour MP during the first two law changes, and his party also voted against the changes.

The 2009 law change meant large projects could no longer be repeatedly appealed to the Environment Court, High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court – sometimes delaying approval by a decade – but instead went to a board of inquiry led by the newly-formed Environmental Protection Agency.

This meant that large-scale projects including the Waterview tunnel and Transmission Gully gained resource consent within nine months.