Friday, 20 October 2017

Policy costings

Another potential benefit of the incoming coalition: a policy costings unit for elections. The Greens have long favoured one. Brian Fallow hits the case here
Voters would be better informed, and Government-forming negotiations made easier, if we had an agency charged with providing impartial, independent costings of the policies parties put before us at election time.

It is too easy, as things stand, for politicians to go around promising the earth, and throwing in the moon for good measure, with barely a dollar sign to be found in their manifestos.

The OECD, in its latest country report on New Zealand, noted that the Treasury does not cost or assess opposition parties' policy proposals.

"Consideration should be given to strengthening New Zealand's institutional framework in this regard, possibly by allocating that responsibility to an existing agency such as the Treasury. Another option, which might enhance the perception of independence of the evaluations, would be for a new fiscal council to provide such estimates," it said, adding that most OECD countries have some form of independent fiscal institution.
He highlights some of the caveats I'd raised in a column last year about the proposal: politicians could time the release of bad policies to make costing difficult. I still think it's worth doing though - and especially if bundled into an independent Office of Parliament that, between elections, runs a cost-effectiveness ruler over existing line-item spending.

We get at least cursory evaluation of new spending programmes, but long-standing policies just roll over from budget to budget with little review. The costings office would keep its wits sharp between elections doing something valuable, and would be ready come the election to run the costings. 

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