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Budget offers new opportunities

Opinion Piece

Thursday's Budget announcement has the ability to significantly influence the way we do things as a community.

It remains to be seen whether our leaders are capable of recognising opportunities for restructuring that are being offered in this document, or if we will become collateral damage of former misplaced decisions that are now coming back to haunt us.

Today we have choices to make that will benefit a lot more people than the ones we had to make or were in the process of making even a week ago. However, to take advantage of this new environment will require an injection of common sense and a reduction in the current pandering to pressure groups that is endangering our future prosperity and “wellbeing”.

Unsurprisingly, the Government's list for priority spending focuses on projects that will create (preferably) permanent jobs and, if those are not likely to result from strategic planning that is or should be in our spatial plan, then the next best thing — skills training programmes that will lead to the same outcome.

I have written at length in these columns bemoaning the failure of our council to take up government offers to kickstart parts of our economy that can only be restructured with that type of outside help.

My concern is that previous attempts to point out the need to reassess our own list of “shovel-ready” projects have had little effect on the mindset that has been locked in to satisfying the wishes of special interest groups at the expense of the greater good.

It will be interesting to see whether the council is prepared to revisit its list, given the Government's expanded offer to provide the funds necessary to do things that are screaming for attention, and which have the capacity to make a real difference for this and future generations of Tairawhiti residents.

While skills training that will lead to real jobs in some of our more remote areas has been a subject of discussion for decades, ideas such as the plans to convert the Tokomaru Bay Shipping Company heritage building into an EIT outpost — that were well-designed, costed and supported by local communities — have been allowed to wither on the vines, and even been deliberately sabotaged by the groups who ironically would ultimately have benefited.

It beggars belief that the council could allow this to happen, especially when it was involved in the signing of an MoU that would have ensured the original project was completed within budget. For some reason the council abandoned that opportunity in favour of a limited project in the same vicinity that will deliver nothing in the form of much-needed skills training.

Similarly, the council has to date refused to support the opening up of the economically-dependent northern region, an idea that has been lying idle as a gift opportunity from the Regional Economic Development Minister, Shane Jones — seemingly because it was opposed by a small group of locally-influential residents who want things to remain as they are, with ratepayers forking out to keep them in the manner to which they have become accustomed. It is madness!

The council must see the folly of its lack of leadership with these issues and accept its responsibility to serve all citizens of this region.

We simply can't afford to allow councillors to indulge their political fantasies in the form of support for projects that have no justification on economic grounds, but may ensure their individual and collective re-election.

We all make mistakes. Now is not the time to continue the process.

Clive Bibby