Regional Development Minister Shane Jones said his own "megaphone" advocacy of the Government's $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) had encouraged greater scrutiny of the fund.

He referred to it as a "political mission".

Jones was speaking at a media briefing today by him and senior officials about the fund - which was a significant outcome of the Coalition agreement between New Zealand First and the Labour-led Government.

The fund has drawn sustained criticism from National but it has also attracted the interest of the Auditor-General, John Ryan, who is conducting his own review of its processes and policies because it involves such a large amount of money and was set up so quickly.

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And Jones revealed he had had Ryan in his office that morning to discuss the review.

Jones: "Officials from time to time, you do attract a level of attention that is possibly related [and] treated as to the style in which matua Shane Jones has taken on this role."

But Jones said he never lost sight of the fact that the fund was part of the New Zealand First Coalition agreement.

"I accept that that does have a magnetic quality causing people to want to bring me down low. Good luck!"

Jones said he had tried to marry the strictures of the core civil service and the treatment of money with the need to be able to stand before voters at the election and to say confidently what had been delivered.

"I don't want to shy away from you in saying that that is what makes this, in some respects, a political mission. That is not to politicise MBIE."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, and ministers Shane Jones and David Parker at the launch of the Provincial Growth Fund in Gisborne last year. Photo / NZME
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, and ministers Shane Jones and David Parker at the launch of the Provincial Growth Fund in Gisborne last year. Photo / NZME

The $3 billion is to be allocated over three years and is run by the Provincial Development Unit, within the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE).

Almost 1000 applications or expressions of interest have been received so far for a share of the $3 billion provincial growth fund, head of the PDU Robert Pigou said.

After one year, $1.77 billion has been committed; 259 applications have been approved; and 286 applications have not been successful.

$480 million of the fund has been allocated to the unit in the Ministry of Primary Industries to manage the one billion trees programme; $388 million has been allocated to roading and Kiwirail projects; and $253 million for tourism projects.

Any region, apart from metropolitan Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch can apply for funds although six areas have been deemed priority or "surge" areas: Northland, Tairawhiti/East Coast; Bay of Plenty; Hawkes Bay; Manawatu-Whanganui; and West Coast.

As at January 31, the number of people working on projects funded by the PGF was 562, of which 272 were full-time.

Pigou said evaluation of the fund would not take place until 2020 and the framework for evaluation was still being worked on.

Jones said his own approach had led to heightened scrutiny by the media.

"I accept my part of the responsibility as to why there is a perceived large level of white-water around this Government initiative," he told the media briefing.

Provincial Development Unit head Robert Pigou, centre, with colleague Ben Dalton and head of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Carolyn Tremain. Photo / Audrey Young
Provincial Development Unit head Robert Pigou, centre, with colleague Ben Dalton and head of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Carolyn Tremain. Photo / Audrey Young

He said the funds and grants made by other parts of the MBIE empire attracted a fraction of the attention.

He believed his own approach had led to more media interest because he had talked up the size of the fund and its reach, and officials too had attracted interest.

"The current Auditor General pointed out that he is conflicted because he used to work for MPI [Ministry of Primary Industries] but he has a very good understanding of the challenges of allocating putea [funds] because the audit department actually pinged MPI several years ago for their stewardship of their primary partnership fund.

"The Auditor-General is very aware that I am incredibly alert to any suggestion that just because this came from New Zealand First, that is should suffer a more intense level of inspection, or because I have wondered around with a megaphone, somehow that means something not quite kosher is happening.

"Unfortunately there's a little bit of a spill-over I think in your treatment of the fund which is more a reflection of my upfront and perhaps excessively loud and unnecessarily loud advocacy of the fund from time to time."

A spokeswoman for Jones said he had sought the meeting with Ryan and they discussed the parameters fo the Auditor General's review, and issues around the state's ability to deliver such large initiatives.

The Auditor General outlined his review into the provincial growth fund in April. It will look at processes and policies in place for:

• Administration and management of the Fund by the PDU, working with other government agencies, and including processes and systems to ensure effective reporting at all levels, and against the appropriations that Parliament has allocated to the Fund;

• Governance arrangements;

• Contract management; and

• The evaluation framework for the fund.