English to meet over job losses

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English will be given the word on regional economies during an electorate visit to the south on Friday.

The Clutha/Southland MP will be in the South Otago town of Balclutha meeting constituents.

However, mayors and chief executives of southern region local authorities have also arranged to meet him, Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said.

The group will go armed with information gathered at an economic summit hosted by the Dunedin City Council and the Otago Chamber of Commerce in Dunedin last week.

The main topic at the summit was a proposal by AgResearch to downsize its Dunedin-based Crown Research Institute at Invermay with the loss of 85 jobs over three years.

That sparked concern over the major loss of scientific support for rural southern communities and the negative economic implications of job losses and closures to southern provinces. The AgResearch proposal includes shifting the institute's work to AgResearch Lincoln, near Christchurch.

Woodhead declined to give details of what his group planned to say to English, who, with Steven Joyce, is one of two ministers responsible for Crown Research Institutes.

"But we will be working towards making sure he's made fully aware of what could flow out of drastic changes to the Invermay system", Woodhead said.

The group including Woodhead, Clutha District Mayor Bryan Cadogan, Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips, and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull would hopefully have some feedback for English collated from the summit.

Cull called last week's summit to thrash out a strategy for what he termed the increasingly "cannibalised" south.

Delegates departed at the end of the day pledging to formulate a viable alternative proposal to the AgResearch plan which would be delivered to Joyce by a southern delegation.

Cull said today in a statement that a working party was putting finishing touches to the counter-proposal with the help of heavyweight additions to the working party. The new members include former MPs Pete Hodgson and Katherine Rich.

Southern leaders had also been in discussions with AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson and chairman Sam Robinson over the Invermay downsizing.

A string of closures and job losses in Dunedin, most initiated by the Government, included large-scale layoffs by KiwiRail at Dunedin's Hillside engineering workshops in 2011, at NZ Post's Dunedin mail centre, and council company Delta's construction arm. More jobs are set to go in the Dunedin Hospital kitchen because the Ministry of Health wants to centralise to Christchurch.

The Government's July 31 announcement another 85 jobs were to go at the city's Invermay AgResearch Centre was the final blow that sparked the summit.

The Southland Times