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In the mood for policy change

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 15 September 2017

Approval ratings of more than three quarters are almost unheard of in politics. Most politicians would be satisfied with far less.

So you can imagine our excitement when we saw the results of the New Zealand Herald’s ‘Mood of the Boardroom’ survey. It polled leading business people on a range of issues – including two that are close to our hearts at the Initiative.

And it revealed overwhelming support for the Initiative’s ideas.

As Insights readers know, we have been making the case for radical devolution since we started five years ago. Initially, there was much scepticism about giving fiscal incentives to local government. Not much anymore, it appears.

The survey revealed that 76 percent of New Zealand’s top business leaders now support sharing GST revenue with local government.

Business leaders understand that local government needs to be incentivised for economic development. They know that New Zealand can only move forward if it aligns central and local government with the goal of economic growth.

A few years ago, such a response from the business community would have been unthinkable. But the Initiative’s fresh thinking made the case for fiscal devolution. The ‘incentives approach’ to local government is now widely understood.

Taking a delegation of our members to Switzerland, the country that does decentralisation best, definitely helped to promote this idea within the business community.

Our visit to Switzerland also had another effect. Our members learnt about the Swiss dual education system, which combines vocational training with further school education. It is an approach that delivers excellent education for blue and white collar workers alike.

The Herald asked our business leaders if New Zealand should do the same. The response was emphatic: 94 percent of the business community agree that New Zealand should copy the Swiss model.

On both devolution and dual education, the business community thus firmly stands behind the Initiative’s policy ideas.

Now we want to see political action.

On dual education, a broad cross-party consensus is emerging. The appeal of the Swiss system is great, and individual businesses are already considering what they can contribute.

On localism and devolution, we note that Labour, ACT, the Greens and New Zealand First are all open to these ideas.

To sum up the Mood of the Boardroom, there is an appetite for change in the business community. Not necessarily in a party-political sense but certainly in policy terms.

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