Pumpkin job scheme funding defended

Last updated 10:57 15/02/2011
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PAULA BENNETT: Says 70 per cent of those on the scheme had not gone back on a main benefit.

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LATEST: Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is satisfied the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars spent on a Far North garden that allegedly reaped only one pumpkin was properly monitored.

The four-acre Community Max project pitched as employing eight unskilled young workers with two supervisors was part of a range of projects, including clerical and conservation work, undertaken by the "Social Development Services" organisation.

It was given a $317,278 subsidy to employ 24 workers.

One of those on the garden project, Glen Larkin, said Work and Income and Community Max people believed the project had done a good job.

The work done was worth more than the workers were paid six months on the minimum wage.

The ministry had said the garden was providing food to the elderly but, when 3News visited, there was only one pumpkin.

Another project, arranged by the City on a Hill Christian Church charitable trust in Kawerau, won $46,276 in funding to make linen for a marae. It got only as far as altering some secondhand clothes, 3News said last night.

The Social Development Ministry's assessment said: "The participants gained sewing skills to make their own clothing which they exhibited to the public of Kawerau at the end of the project.

"They were involved in sewing of marae linen [sheets, pillow cases, tea-towels and curtains]. They also gained driver's licences, first-aid certificates and OSH certification."

A spokeswoman for Bennett said the Ministry of Social Development looked into the two examples and within hours had information to show the programmes had been properly monitored and had tangible outcomes.

All the projects were part of the Government's Community Max scheme, which had engaged 4500 people so far.

Bennett said 70 per cent of those on the scheme had not gone back on a main benefit.

"There are hundreds of these programmes," Bennett's spokeswoman said.

"The reason for ComMax is not to build gardens but it is to keep young people engaged ... and learning skills."

Figures provided by the department show none of the seven people who worked on the linen project had gone back on a benefit.

Of the 24 workers on the Far North project, seven were back on a benefit.

Papers provided to The Dominion Post also show $18,360 was provided to Te Kahao Health to send text messages to defendants reminding them of court appearances.

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Its assessment found: "SMS text messages were successfully sent to defendants." Fewer than six workers were employed and half remained off the benefit.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said the Community Max scheme was about giving young people work experience and getting them into jobs.

"The choice is just leave them on the scrap heap, do nothing, and hope that they will eventually find a job.

"We would hope that eventually those young people have still got something useful on their CV apart from playing on a PlayStation."

He said the Government would look at the effectiveness of the programmes when deciding whether to continue the funding.

"We need to make sure that they have been effective, it's certainly legitimate to be asking questions about whether they work, the alternative is not doing anything and that could be more damaging to young people."

In regards to the gardening project he said the important thing was not what was left behind.

"If you turn up eight months after the gardening project is finished, after the vegetables have been pulled out of the ground and given away and sold then you're likely to find it overgrown."

While some of the young people involved in the project were back on a benefit and others had left for Australia, some went into work.

- By Vernon Small and Kate Chapman/Stuff

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