New Zealand’s leading business leaders say the nation’s Covid-19 recovery is in peril, collectively rating their business confidence at just 1.36 out of a maximum of 5 points.
That rating, in The New Zealand Herald’s Mood of the Boardroom 2020 Survey, an annual boardroom barometer of 165 CEOs and high-profile directors, is the lowest business confidence has ever been in the survey’s 19-year history.
However, the NZ Herald’s head of business content, Fran O’Sullivan, found a positive note despite the concerns: “Optimism may be at the lowest levels seen in the survey’s history, but the CEOs’ responses demonstrated their own commitment to turning the economy around,” she said.
Westpac CEO David McLean says the future has never been so uncertain, but that means that the need for crisp and clear policies and plans has never been greater.
“We need to see pathways mapped, not just for how to escape from the current Covid-19 crisis, but to take us toward a better future by addressing some of the big challenges we face beyond Covid-19, such as increasing our productivity and tackling climate change,” said McLean.
Mainfreight’s Don Braid questioned Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s heavy reliance on government bureaucrats for advice and execution and her apparent unwillingness to listen to the private sector for ideas.
“There are many willing to devote time, energy and ideas in areas that allow New Zealand to find the right environment to operate in a post-lockdown economy,” he said.
Deloitte CEO Thomas Pippos points to tax policy being a key issue.
“Though Labour’s proposal to increase the highest personal-tax rate doesn’t impact on the majority, National has upped the ante by helicoptering in temporary tax relief across the board to stimulate economic growth. Tax therefore promises to be a very complicated and emotive topic, that will either be centre stage this election or not far from it,’’ said Pippos.
With just under three weeks to go before New Zealanders go to the polls to choose their next government, O’Sullivan said leaders are looking for more from both major parties.
The CEO of BusinessNZ, which partnered with the NZ Herald on the survey, Kirk Hope, credited Labour’s economic policy response to Covid as underpinning the economy during a challenging time.
“However, the long-term plans are less well understood. They will need to do a hard sell. National’s plans are slightly more pro-business. But both parties need to talk about how quantitative easing enables them to maximise a reduction in borrowing costs to help grow the economy.”