Business heroes: Why Sir Ian Taylor spent 2021 irritating the Government

Managed-isolation crusader Sir Ian Taylor isn’t going to give up until the Government listens. He’s relentless. The Animation Research founder has made it his business to be vocal this year, campaigning to find a better, safer way to free up the border for returning Kiwis and those who need to travel for business.

Using himself as a guinea pig, Taylor, 71, applied to take part in the Government’s trial that allowed 150 New Zealanders to manage their own isolation after returning from overseas this year. Taylor called his trial #151 Off The Bench, gathering a team of experts to prove to the Government that Kiwis could run a safe and efficient, privately-funded self-isolation model using strict protocols and state of the art technology, much of it developed in this country.

Within 48 hours of getting the go-ahead to be part of the trial, Taylor’s team had mapped out a plan.

“The whole thing was put together by people who knew what they were doing.”

Back then, his view was that yes, the top priority was to keep New Zealand safe from the coronavirus, but he also worried about “the other virus”, the one that was doing long-term damage to the country’s economy and businesses because Kiwis were unable to travel overseas to compete in a global market.

Last month Taylor flew to the US for a five-day business trip. Once back in Auckland, he isolated for 10 days under two different protocols – those set down by the Government, and Taylor’s #151 system, which included everything from 24/7 geo-fencing to virtual health equipment and saliva testing.

Within 45 minutes of his release from his 10 days’ isolation, Taylor was reading a draft of Ernst & Young’s report on the #151 trial. And his conclusion about the two versions of the trial?

“The self-isolation programme that [the Government] ran was a shambles. Any report they get or any way of implementing this will fail if they do it their way.”

Now he’s worried about plans to open the border to vaccinated Kiwis and visitors from April 30 next year without having to go through MIQ. He sees trouble looming – travellers from Europe who have come out of winter bringing with them the latest strains of the ‘flu and Covid-19.

“What are they going to do to handle that? We’re dealing with a group of people who’ve never run businesses, never actually had to respond at the kinds of speeds that businesses do. And Covid moves so much faster than government officials.”

The offer to help with planning by his #151 team was genuine, he says, and yet the Government’s response to all those involved has been “thanks, but no thanks”.

Taylor himself made multiple approaches to the Prime Minister’s office and government departments. When that didn’t work, he started writing a series of articles which the Herald published, and wrote pieces on LinkedIn. He forwarded his articles to officials, sent emails and, in the face of no response, talked on radio and TV.

And he’s still talking. Mention the #151 project and Taylor is off – ideas hurtling out faster than Team New Zealand’s racing yacht. And now he’s asking questions? Why won’t the Government engage with Taylor’s team? For the Government, he must be the equivalent of that annoying mosquito that won’t buzz off.

In last New Year’s Honours, Taylor was knighted for services to broadcasting, business and the community. He laughs when the Herald suggests he would be unlikely to have made this year’s list. But it will take more than a little official cold-shouldering to knock Taylor off course.

“I’m carrying on,” he says. “There are people with ideas and solutions out there that could put this country back at the top of the list of the way we handle Covid. All I’ve got to do is get them to listen.”

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