English hints cash to bolster port assets

Skills shortages and diversification issues in South Canterbury do not require special government action, Finance Minister Bill English says.

Speaking after a business lunch hosted by the South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce yesterday, English said he believed local investors and businesses were better equipped to make decisions about the region's economic future than elected officials.

However, he said the Government needed to support investments that had been made at the port, possibly by improving local roads to cope with the expansion.

Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew said businesses often complained to her about growing difficulties finding skilled workers. English, who has said he "hates them whingeing about skills", said businesses needed to encourage job market-oriented changes to polytechnics and other training establishments.

"We need local businesses to be working with the local tertiary organisations to get the skills that they want. The Government can't deliver an endless stream of cheap, highly qualified people."

English challenged suggestions by Labour Party leader David Cunliffe that South Canterbury businesses were exposed to changes in milk solids prices and needed to diversify to avoid "a tough next three years". English believed South Canterbury's strengths lay in farming, food processing and processing, saying "I just happen to be a supporter of what we do well".

He claimed "Mr Cunliffe thinks the Government can just pick up a bit of the economy and throw it out and put in another bit instead. You just can't do that".

On Conservative Party Waitaki candidate Donald Aubrey's criticism of the Government's "neglect" of provincial roading and broadband problems:

"I just think he's wrong. The Government's programme extends [ultrafast broadband speeds] out to provincial and increasingly rural areas".

On his claim that placing "armed guards on the doors of the welfare office to stop the little buggers coming in" would be "the cheapest possible political intervention we could think of":

"That was a figure of speech, but it was making a point. The analysis shows that having a young person go on a benefit is the worst thing that can happen to them."

On duopolies, which English calls "a feature of our economy":

"We've got two significant supermarket chains, we've got two major building suppliers, so we've been doing a market study on those. You've got three major phone companies ... There's no big leap or easy answers to these questions."

The Timaru Herald