Leaders demand rethink on shift of jobs

By Dene Mackenzie

Calls are being made for Steven Joyce to review Agresearch's decision to cut 85 jobs. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Calls are being made for Steven Joyce to review Agresearch's decision to cut 85 jobs. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Business leaders are calling for Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce to review a decision by Agresearch to cut 85 jobs from Invermay near Dunedin and shift them to Lincoln or Palmerston North by 2016.

Otago Chamber of Commerce president Peter McIntyre said the decision was so major for the region, with three-quarters of current jobs set to shift, that Joyce needed to ensure he was not being blind-sided by Agresearch chief executive Tom Richardson.

And Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is prepared to lead a delegation of regional "stakeholders" to put Joyce "straight" on the city's economic and financial situation.

Joyce had praised the city's economic development strategy, based around a knowledge economy and aiming to create 10,000 jobs in 10 years, said Cull.

It was difficult to do that when 85 highly skilled jobs were being lost.

Central Government needed to step back and review its stance on national development over regional development.

The answer was not to put everything in Christchurch and Auckland, Cull said.

McIntyre said people with wide- ranging views were approaching him and the chamber expressing their concern about the latest job losses.

He said he had heard that "empire building happening with Lincoln University" had influenced the decision.

Joyce and Finance Minister Bill English should reconsider the move, he said.

"There are a number of highly qualified staff at Invermay staff obviously blind-sided by the rationale as well. I think it would be wise and prudent for the minister to review this decision rather than having blind faith in the chief executive."

English was the MP for Clutha- Southland and Invermay played a large part in the Southland farming sector, McIntyre said.

Otago and Southland had 30 per cent of the nation's sheep flock and 14 per cent of dairy cows. Deer also played a huge part in Invermay and the region.

Servicing Winton from Lincoln or Palmerston North made no sense when top scientists were based at Invermay, he said.

Agribusiness and scientific businesses had sprung out of Invermay, making the decision to reduce its operations even more nonsensical.

"We can't afford to lose such a key part of our infrastructure, particularly with its links to the rural sector and the University of Otago.

"Minister Joyce needs to understand we think these cuts are over the top and deeper than they should be."

Cull said he was prepared to do what it took to make the Government understand that gutting regions was not in the best interests of New Zealand.

Tertiary education was hugely important to the region but it was not about the Government establishing more institutes in Dunedin.

The aim was to build on the research and people already in the city and enhance the side economy.

"If they take away the sort of infrastructure and services offered by Invermay, they erode our base and we have nothing to build on.

"They are stealing our future."

Cull urged Joyce to appreciate the importance regions played in producing export dollars, particularly in the south of New Zealand.

To have a balanced national community and economy, with distributive capacity, there needed to be vibrant regional centres.

The lesson from the Canterbury and Wellington earthquakes should be not to put everything in two or three major centres.

Demographically, regions were starting to be hit hard faster by an ageing population as young people left for the larger centres, Cull said.

While Joyce had said no one was forcing people to move to the larger centres, the Government was encouraging people to move by concentrating its various services in two of those centres - Auckland and Christchurch.

"They are doing that by stripping the regions."

Recent knocks, such as the closure of Fisher & Paykel Appliances' manufacturing plant at Hillside, were because the world economy had changed.

It was not economic to manufacture a long distance away from markets and transport heavy items by road or sea.

However, Dunedin's strength lay in the "weightless economy" where services could be provided through the internet.

Cull questioned why the Government was spending so much money on the ultra-fast broadband network throughout the country when it was shifting services out of the region.

- NZ Herald

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