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Need to boost regional economy

LABOUR Party leader Andrew Little visited Gisborne yesterday and said relocating some Wellington-based government services to this and other regions could economically boost provincial New Zealand.

Among his hosts yesterday was the Chamber of Commerce, which told him regional New Zealand was being overlooked.

Moving civil service jobs to regions“We spoke about the centralisation of government services under this government,’’ said Mr Little. “‘I have a view that not every government job has to be in Wellington.’’

The nature of technology meant civil service jobs could be moved from Wellington. There was a time when many regional offices were based around the country. Mr Little said that although Kiwibank was not a government department, it provided an example of such a policy when the bank moved its call centre, and 100 jobs, to Hastings.

“There might be a bottom line cost in moving out of Wellington but the real value is what it does to regional economies. Fifty or 100 civil service salaries could make a big difference in a place like Gisborne.’’

Mr Little said a Labour-led government would launch a regional development fund with $200 million to spend, probably over a four-year period.

Organisations like Gisborne District Council and Activate Tairawhiti could apply for grants of between $20m and $30m to develop infrastructure and attract further business investment. Developing infrastructure like Gisborne’s port that could develop economic impetus was the aim of the fund.

Health has been underfundedMr Little said Hauora Tairawhiti was far from the only health board with significant deficit issues. Health funding formulas had not kept up with population growth and demographic changes such as aging generations. Mr Little said independent analysis by economic consultants Infometrics showed, because of these issues, that health had been underfunded by $1.7 billion since 2010.

“Funding is $1.7b behind where it needs to be. Many health boards are facing deficits and are wondering how they can claw it back. The demands on them are great. The cost of health provision rises faster than the consumer price index. We are saying there has to be a catch-up.’’

But Mr Little said that could not be done quickly.

“Over a period of four years, we can catch up and provide funding, which would allow health boards to provide the services their population needs.”

Rail 'not an isolated issue'Mr Little said there would need to be a level of local support before Labour made a commitment to restoring the Gisborne to Napier rail line.

“I know a lot of people are keen to see the line restored.’’

The Chamber of Commerce was “somewhat indifferent”.

Mr Little said rail was not an isolated issue but sat within a broader transport policy framework consisting of road, rail and ports. A proper integrated transport policy would examine issues such as whether it was more efficient to move freight by road, rail, ports or by a combination of options.

Mr Little said overcrowded housing was an issue in Gisborne. Labour wanted to assist low income earners into home ownership. Next week Labour would release policy aimed at a state-led house building programme and other housing issues.

Mr Little also visited Ngai Tamanuhiri Trust, EIT Tairawhiti, Tauawhi Men’s Centre and Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa.

LOOKING AT GISBORNE: Labour Party leader Andrew Little (second from right) accompanied by Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti, Meka Whaitiri (second from left) learn more about Gisborne issues from Rachel Hogan, (Gisborne Chamber of Commerce marketing and membership manager) and Steve Breen, chief executive of Activate Tairawhiti. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell