Santa Jones’s money scramble is a fizzer

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has $3 billion allocated to spend on the regions over the next three years, but the regions have to apply for it. Either some are slow to do that or the allocation is haphazard. For whatever reason, Santa Jones’s money scramble is a fizzer because the largest spend so far is on Santa Jones’s pet project of planting one billion trees.

Interest.co.nz reported on progress in September. Quote.

The New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform received $7.5 million towards getting ex-offenders a driver’s licence and the Hundertwasser Arts Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery in Whangarei received $10 million.

In April, $13 million was committed to “investigating and supporting a 41-kilometre “Mounga to Moana” walking experience in Taranaki.

By early August, Jones has allocated $126,395,900 to 65 initiatives across the country – just 4% of the way through his $3,000,000,000 target.

A few weeks later, he unveiled by far the biggest item on the PGF agenda – $240 million towards the Government’s one billion trees target.

Despite this, there is still some $2.65 billion left to allocate by the 2020 election.” End of quote.

Since then $350,000 was allocated for a “detailed business case for the expansion and enhancement of the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier.”

The latest region to benefit is Manawatū-Whanganui.  A newspaper reported this week on how the money will be spent. Quote.

• $40m for a new regional freight hub near Palmerston North, a key staging point for domestic, imported and exported freight in the Lower North Island

• $40m to expand the Rural Broadband Initiative Phase Two (RBI2), the Mobile Black Spot Fund (MBSF), and make broadband connectivity available to every rural marae, home, and business in Manawatū-Whanganui.

• $2.8m to expand the National Driver Training Centre based at Manfeild, near Feilding, to train 700 drivers and machine operators annually
• A $400,000 investment to fund the first stage of an Advanced Aviation Hub at Whanganui Airport
• $100,000 to investigate FoodHQs development to assist food exporters
• $100,000 to assess alternative land utilisation choices in the Tararua District
• $98,000 towards Kaitahi Food & Innovation Factory
• $95,000 towards establishing an education, training and employment programme at the former site of Turakina Māori Girls’ College
• $60,000 towards the Tararua Tourism & Trails Strategy
• $50,000 to investigate education to employment pathways within Horowhenua.” End of quote.

Most of the allocations are rats and mice, and, with the exception of the $240m spend on the one billion trees scheme, all funds have been allocated to the North Island.

Why aren’t South Island regions applying for funding? Or have they applied and there is a processing lag with allocating funding?

Last week Radio NZ reported that Kaitaia’s largest employer in the area, the JNL triboard wood processing plant, had threatened closure. Quote.

Far North Mayor John Carter got a phone call on cool spring Wednesday in September asking him to be available for a call from the mill’s management over the weekend.

“I sat there for three nights, I’m not sure whether you’re allowed to say cacking my pants, but I was seriously worried,” he said.

Even the mill’s employees were pessimistic. One worker, who asked not to be named, said they all thought it was going to close.

“We just thought well, this is it.”

In the end, Kaitaia got a reprieve – for now. Hilliard says JNL plans to stay though 20-30 people will lose their jobs.

“At the end of the day we had to make a decision whether to modernise the plant or close it and I think we’re really lucky that our owners have committed to modernise,” he said.

“The company has taken a significant hit to be able to do that, to give longevity to those mills, and that is a huge win for Kaitaia.” End of quote.

Kaitaia gets to keep its wood processing plant because the owners decided to modernise it rather than close the plant down and all except 20 or 30 staff get to keep their jobs.

Northland has the highest levels of unemployment in the country at 5.7% compared to the national average of 4.5% in the year to June 2018.

The opposite is happening in the South Island towns where there aren’t enough workers to meet the demand and unemployment is at a ten year low with Ashburton at 1.9%, the MacKenzie District 1.4%, Hurunui 1.7% and Timaru 2.7%.

So much money in the PGF; some of it could surely be spent in researching opportunities for labour movement between the provinces?

On the AM show this week the Ashburton mayor, Donna Favel, told Duncan Garner that Ashburton has a shortage of workers. Businesses in her area need around 500 people to fill jobs as truck drivers, dairy workers, GPs, teachers, police, mechanics, excavators and medical professionals to name a few.  They need people right across the board.  A production plant wants to expand lines but cannot get staff and a factory cannot open until it gets staff. The Ashburton District Council has a link on their website to local job vacancies.

Favel said the Clutha district has the same problem and the mayor of Dunedin, Brian Cadogen, says Dunedin needs around 800 workers. These numbers are not necessarily reflected in advertised jobs because businesses aren’t always advertising.

Having a pile of money to spend will not improve any regions if the spending is not allocated wisely and does not address the individual needs of the provinces.  We need to properly use the labour resources that we already have before we do anything else. This is the first thing for central government to look at.


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