While debate has been raging within Horowhenua District Council and among some ratepayers wanting lower rates about the role council should or could play in employing locals and keeping local businesses going, at least two firms say council contracts awarded them over part of the lockdown have enabled them to keep staff on.
Of course the Government subsidy also played in role in them being able to avoid letting staff go.
Over the lockdown many council facilities were closed and HDC took the opportunity to do much needed maintenance work in places like the Shannon library and Levin's Aquatic Centre.
Horowhenua District Council itself employs 235 staff. That is including 146 fulltime staff, 69 part-time staff, and 20 casual staff.
"Council's contribution to supporting local jobs goes far beyond the number of people we directly employ. Many of the services we offer are contracted out and provide work for local people employed by our contractors, " said mayor Bernie Wanden.
"These include ongoing services such as rubbish and recycling; water, wastewater and stormwater services; road maintenance; berm mowing; and maintenance of parks and cemeteries.
"It also includes work we contract out for council projects. Where possible, we prefer to contract work to local providers. Current examples include the maintenance being carried out on our swimming pools and refurbishments being done at the Shannon Library.
"At the swimming pools, work to replace the sealant, grouting and tiles in the main pool is being done by a local tiler; pumps and valves being replaced in the plant room are being done by a local branch of a national company; and painting and carpentry are being done by local subcontractors," said the mayor.
Aquatics manager Patrick Blackman said: "When I made some calls around local companies looking to get our maintenance work started during alert level 3, many of them said they were currently very quiet and they jumped at the chance to get work on this project.
"It was satisfying to be able to support our local tradespeople at a time when many local businesses have been facing hardship."
At the Shannon Library, electrical and plumbing work, improvements to a small kitchen, and installation of a heat pump are being carried out by local providers.
ABC Building Contractor Ltd was one of the companies involved in maintenance work for the Shannon Library, Te Takere's storage facility and Levin's Aquatic Centre.
Owner Frits van Geldorp said he was really scared of having to let go some of his staff and contractor over the lockdown.
"We do a lot of work in rest homes and we were not allowed to work there once lockdown started.
He said he was rapped when the council rang with jobs for alert level 3 for them to do. "We kept doing essential work in rest homes and for council, but these contracts were great."
He employs five people and was able to hold on to all and now the economy is picking up he has enough work to keep going.
"Council has really been good to us. They look after us and pay their bills on time. Throughout all alert levels they have been well organised.
"We were supplied with documentation for everything that was required and were clear on what they expected from us," he said.
Barry Watkins from BW Brick and Tiling Ltd couldn't agree more. As he does a lot of tiling work at Speldhurst, 30sq m a house with five houses to do this month, he went into lockdown too under alert level 4.
Given that many Speldhurst residents were in the age group considered especially vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus, all work there had to stop for a while, he said.
"Five years ago I was approached to apply to be a council contractor for blockwork, brick and tile laying. A lot of paper work."
Over the lockdown he too did some essential work such as retiling the toilet block on Salisbury St, taking a weekend. At Levin's Aquatic Centre he kept three guys in work for three weeks replacing silicon joints and replacing broken tiles.
"Government support and the council contracts over that critical time were brilliant," Watkins said.
He said work is picking up again quickly and he is not expecting a serious fallout from the lockdown.
"It is almost back to where it was before lockdown. Levin's growth continues and most people are still optimistic.
"Sourcing product we needed was at times tough. We use specialist silicon, which is supplied out of Auckland."
Watkins said he had two permanent staff and also used contractors at times.
For council employing locals appears to be a no-brainer.
"We also did a major safety upgrade of the roundabout at the intersection of Queen St and Cambridge St, and most of this work was being carried out by the local branch of a national company," said council CEO David Clapperton.
He said council also helps to create jobs in the district indirectly by investing in projects such as Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom, which stimulate the local economy by attracting visitors to the district and locals to the town centres.
"Our approach is underpinned by our commitment to creating 'An exuberant economy' in our district. This is one of the six community outcomes in our 2018-2038 Long Term Plan. To achieve this outcome:
- We are a welcoming, enabling and business friendly District that encourages local economic development.
- We provide opportunities for people of all ages and at all phases of life to enjoy a quality of living within our district that is economically sustainable and affordable.
- We recognise and manage the effects of population growth and actively promote the district as a destination of choice.
- We value the role our district's natural, cultural and social assets play in supporting economic development.
He said the pool and library work is only a small sample of council's direct and indirect contributions to creating and protecting jobs in the district. Council provides a huge number and variety of works and projects that provide work for local people.
Both the mayor and the CEO believe council plays a key role in employing locals.
"We plan for services and projects in the coming financial year and consider how to help Horowhenua recover from Covid-19, we are mindful that council plays a key role in employing local contractors and services, as described above," said Clapperton.
"Any reduction in our spending on works and projects would impact local providers at a time when they need work more than ever, so our decisions need to be carefully considered," said mayor Wanden.
"We would need to strike a balance between any need to reduce spending and our role in stimulating and supporting the local economy to recover.
"We will therefore take a measured approach and ensure we have the facts in front of us before we make decisions.
"Making sure we continue to provide core services for our community and understanding what might be needed to help our district's social and economic recovery will be key factors."