Opinion: Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, made some big announcements when she attended the Waitangi Day celebrations last week. Each of those announcements will have a positive impact on both Northland, and the rest of the country, and are amongst the latest initiatives being supported by the Provincial Growth Fund.
Te Ara Mahi is an $82 million programme that will help get my nephews — and possibly yours too — off the couch and into productive work. Te Ara Mahi will support people who are at risk of long-term unemployment throughout the country, but it will have a much bigger impact in the North, especially the Far North, because of our high rates of unemployment.
It will also help employers who are struggling to find workers, or who need help to support new employees who have been unemployed for some time or never acquired the skills to hold down steady work.
Too many of our young people have fallen through the cracks, leaving school without qualifications or many of the basic life skills needed to make a living. Te Ara Mahi will support people to remedy those deficits in a dignified and positive way.
In Northland we also have a lot of Māori land that isn't being used to its full potential.
Top-class horticultural land may be used for grazing sheep and cattle. Or sheep and cattle or dairy farms are perhaps not being run efficiently because of a lack of investment. With multiple land owners and a different legal structure, it can be hard to get finance from traditional lenders to invest in this land.
Supporting Māori economic development is a key focus of this government's regional development efforts. That's why we have established the Whenua Māori Fund, which will provide $100m from the Provincial Growth Fund to partner with Māori and help unlock the potential in their land.
Also announced was investment to help some Northland and Far North communities to grow and connect with the wider world.
In Kaipara the PGF is investing more than $20.3m in upgrades to the roading network, wharves and water transport. This will support local industry and make the roads safer for all residents.
Just under $1m will be used to support Kaipara Kai, a project to look at possible new crops, stock types and aquaculture for the region.
Another $21m is being invested nationally to improve digital connectivity, by connecting marae to fast internet and establishing Regional Digital Hubs to provide people and businesses with access to digital services. Two Northland marae, Oramahoe, near Moerewa, and Te Houhanga, at Dargaville, are among the first to be connected.
These investments won't make up for years of neglect from successive governments on their own, but they will make a difference.
I look forward to making more announcements from the PGF that help to close that gap, both in Northland and other neglected parts of our country.