Prime Minister John Key has stressed a new urgency in kick-starting the sluggish economy with steps to get more young people into work and help the Christchurch rebuild.
In his first speech of the year, Key signalled a more hands-on approach from the Government, with a $12 million boost in apprenticeship training.
The plan includes an uncharacteristic outlay: up to $2000 to cover trainees' tools and course costs.
His "business plan" to encourage growth includes a "rebooted" apprenticeship scheme to boost skills and get more people into the workplace. Unemployment stands at 7.3 per cent and the level of young NEETs (people aged 15 and 24, not in education, employment or training) is 13.4 per cent.
The programme and a boom in trades from rebuilding Christchurch will get an extra 14,000 into training in the next five years.
Canterbury Registered Master Builders Association president Clive Barrington praised the scheme. "It gives young people an incentive to come into the industry. It's money used wisely," he said. "There's a huge building project ahead of us in Christchurch . . . and there's definitely going to be a shortage of tradesmen." Barrington said he would consider using the scheme to boost the 38-strong team in his building company.
Key also confirmed a plan to float shares in another state-owned asset this year, winding back on an earlier hint from Finance Minister Bill English that three might go on the block.
In another sector, Key warned local councils to open up more land for housing and to cut red-tape, or face greater intervention from central Government.
Key singled out housing and the reform of the Resource Management Act as priorities. "If councils aren't able to change their planning processes, then the Government will have to get a lot more pro-active because we are very serious about the issue."
He gave no indication more state houses were on the cards.
"We are already a huge player in the housing market and I'm very wary of spending more of taxpayers' money," he said.
He played down fears about the high dollar, saying a strong exchange rate meant cheaper prices for household goods like clothing, fuel and food. Key also signalled that after four years of austerity, his Government was ready to shift tack. "I don't think we have a fiscal problem any more. We've done four years of hard work to get ourselves back on track to surplus."
While business and construction industry groups welcomed the shot in the arm for Christchurch, Opposition politicians said it was "too little, too late" and the speech lacked vision. Both Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly and Industry Training Federation chief executive Mark Oldershaw welcomed the apprenticeship plan.
Labour Party leader David Shearer was scathing - saying the "new-found enthusiasm" for apprentices had come four years too late. Modern apprenticeships had declined by 20 per cent under National, he said.
$12 million boost in apprenticeship training to aid the Christchurch rebuild. All apprentices grouped in single, national scheme. Trades include carpentry, painting, plumbing, gas fitting, drain laying, joinery, boiler making, welding, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. The first 10,000 new apprentices enrolled after April 1 get $1000 towards costs, or $2000 if they are in priority construction trades.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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