20 Feb 2009

English defends lack of jobless forecasts

12:18 am on 20 February 2009

The Government has denied hiding worsening unemployment figures as Finance Minister Bill English concedes the country is now in its fifth quarter of recession.

The Labour Party says the outlook for jobs must be worsening and it accuses Mr English of failing to report growing job losses.

But Mr English says the economic situation is changing from day to day, and to constantly provide updated forecasts on unemployment would be pointless.

Mr English made the comments after he was asked at Wednesday morning's finance and expenditure select committee why no updates were available despite the deepening economic crisis.

Treasury forecasts completed at the start of December predicted 52,000 more people would be out of work by the middle of the year, and since then Mr English has acknowledged that the economic picture for New Zealand's trading partners has worsened.

Mr English told the committee the Government preferred to focus on coming up with policies to tackle the generally worsening economy, rather than concentrating on forecasts.

But Labour Party finance spokesperson David Cunliffe has accused the Government of concealing the updated jobless forecast.

Mr Cunliffe says he does not believe that Treasury has not updated its December unemployment forecast, noting that it is normal practice for Treasury to give regular updates to the finance minister.

He believes Mr English does not want to release them because he has no plan to deal with rising unemployment.

Mr Cunliffe says he sought a range of new figures on various fiscal matters, including unemployment, and was told there were none.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway says he would be very surprised if Mr English is not getting updated figures with the budget process underway and a job summit coming closer.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend says New Zealand is in a period of rapid change and accurate information is critical.

Meanwhile, this year's Budget will be delivered on 28 May.

Mr English says it will be a responsible budget that will help protect the country from the worst effects of the recession and prepare it for recovery and higher productivity.

He says the Budget will create opportunities, encourage capital investment and reward people with good ideas and the right skills.