What Hawke's Bay wants from the Budget

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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The Salvation Army's Major Annette Garrett
The Salvation Army's Major Annette Garrett

On Thursday the National Government announces its last Budget ahead of September's general election. Finance Minister Bill English said with surpluses forecast the country will have choices and the Budget will ensure the benefits of a stronger economy "are locked in for New Zealanders and their families". Hawke's Bay Today asked the region's people what their expectations were.
ON THURSDAY, National presents its sixth Budget as the country heads into what Prime Minister John Key calls improved economic and fiscal conditions.
The Government's numbers are looking better, with a small surplus forecast and bigger ones forecast.
Hawke's Bay businesses look to be enjoying better times, despite last year's drought, but good numbers for business don't always transfer to good living for workers.
Salvation Army major Annette Garrett said people needed full- time permanent jobs to live well.
"The dominant thing in my mind has always been employment," she said.
"In Hawke's Bay we have a lot of seasonal work and we need alternatives. We deal with a whole lot of social needs but if people have got good housing and employment then a lot of what we do isn't needed.
"If there was any way of attracting other industries with fulltime work then that would be something wonderful."
Her other concern is education - linking education with employment to stop youth unemployment.
"A six-month course on a building site is not the same as an apprenticeship."
Unions Hawke's Bay convenor Thomas O'Neill said a government strategy was needed to develop secure, well-paid jobs.
"Unemployment is at 8.4 per cent in Gisborne/Hawkes Bay - considerably higher than the rest of the country's 6 per cent - and is close to the highest it has been in March since 1998.
"It hasn't improved since the start of the current recession so the region needs a big focus on jobs, decent jobs." For those without work more support was needed, "not just pushing them into jobs that don't exist".
Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce president Brent Linn also called on the Government to create a regional job strategy "in recognition of the importance of provincial New Zealand business to the prosperity of NZ Inc".
"As a regional economy with a strong dependence on the primary sector we would like to see initiatives that support the development of our capability in this area - initiatives around research and development, skills training and infrastructure developments that support our natural productive advantages.
"Employment growth will be driven by employer confidence so the budget needs to talk to the drivers that will give employers confidence to invest in new staff."
He said The Hawke's Bay business profile was dominated by SMEs - businesses with five or fewer employees with personal equity at stake.
"So we would like to see a budget that recognises the fragile nature of their confidence framed often by the cost of doing business in respect of compliance and the recognition of a fair reward to these risk takers and drivers of employment growth."
People needed to feel they were making headway.
"The challenges of the weekly budget are dominated by mortgage interest rates and a rising cost of living.

So the Budget needs to recognise that their confidence to spend - or ability to save - needs to be related to their drivers."
He said the Government should recognise Hawke's Bay was a "very attractive part of the world to live and do business in".
"Perhaps it is time for a regional immigration and investment strategy?"
Economic development agency Business Hawke's Bay's chairman Stuart McLauchlan said the Government needed to increase its support for regions.
"Supporting those aspects we can control - how we work e.g. improving productivity.
"The Business Hawke's Bay High Performance Work Initiative is an example of how we can make a difference, how we encourage/incentivise businesses to establish in the regions, how do we better support start-ups and more support of those organisations in the regions which are helping businesses to step up."
Prime Minister John Key, when asked what the Government could do for the region's many casual horticultural workers on minimum wage, said Hawke's Bay was experiencing good growth and the government's job was to "try and lift skills, lift investment and lift opportunities".
"There is always more change that can take place but I don't think we should be too down-in-the-mouth about what we are seeing in Napier and Hawke's Bay - I think it is very strong," he said.
"If you think about what we are doing, from free trade agreements, to open investment rules, to the infrastructural rollout we are delivering in this part of the world, all of those things assist a growing economy. Hawke's Bay is doing well - its growth rate is strong."
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said a greater range of industries would improve the quality of jobs, such as the proposed Central Hawke's Bay irrigation scheme and oil and gas exploration. "We need more competition for the labour," he said.
There were 5000 people in Taranaki working in the oil and gas industry and most had a salary of more than $100,000, he said.
"The best time is not in production - the best time is when people are going around digging holes and looking for it. That's when the boom time happens because that's when the work is."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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