22 Nov 2011

Job creation major issue for Dunedin

9:10 pm on 22 November 2011

Community and business leaders in Dunedin say the major political parties are not serious enough about creating jobs in the South Island city.

Radio New Zealand's Otago regional reporter Ian Telfer has been talking to people about what they want from the parties this election.

Ask people in Dunedin what the most important issues are in this election, and many say asset sales and nearly all say jobs. Unemployment in the city is about the national average - 6.6% of the workforce and at least 700 young people are out of work.

The chief executive of the Dunedin Methodist Mission, Laura Black, says most of the jobs created in the past three years have been part-time and in the low-paying cleaning and tourism industries.

"Not only do we have large numbers of people who can't find satisfactory work, we have large numbers of people who can only find part-time work, and most of the people who are finding work are not being well rewarded for it - that's no way to run an economy."

The Labour and Green parties have released specific jobs policies during the election campaign, and National a suite of economic policies.

Ms Black is sceptical that the Green Party could deliver on its plan to create 100,000 jobs, but she says it is the only party to present a vision of serious job creation.

"The National Party, in particular with its strong business base, should really have a narrative they can bring to that discussion that would be illuminating and challenging for the country - and my sense is that business would really, really like to have that conversation too.

"Labour should be able to work its way into this conversation as well - it shouldn't just be the Greens."

The manager of the Dunedin City Council's economic development unit says government policies can have a large effect on the city, as about one-third of all its jobs are directly or indirectly taxpayer-funded in tertiary education and health.

Peter Harris says Dunedin must be taken more seriously.

"It's easy for governments to be population-based funding-orientated, because that's where the votes come from. But I think Dunedin holds a special place in the fact that we can come up with new ideas for government and we can be a great testing ground for it. I think it's a really good investment in that way."

Education and the workforce

Many Dunedin people are horrified by the slow demise of the 130-year-old Hillside engineering workshop, now run by KiwiRail, where 44 people were laid earlier this year.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie believes the city's strong agricultural hinterland will always need engineering businesses to support it, but says the economy is changing and is pleased to see political parties starting to realise the need for workforce planning.

"Education's got to be looked at in a much bigger context, in terms of what are the skills that we need for the future, for the country and for our region. We've got to link those skills into that sector so that we're producing the right results at the end of the day.

"So if we need more apprenticeships in a certain area, that's where we should be targeting money from government and the efforts of our tertiary education providers."

Mr Christie says the Chamber of Commerce wants a government which has helping businesses grow and creating jobs at its heart.