Prime Minister unveils $37m Auckland recovery fund, including 100k free tickets

STUFF
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveils a $37m Auckland recovery fund, promising free tickets to attractions and facilities.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has unveiled a $37.5 million recovery fund for Auckland, which includes 100,000 tickets to local attractions and facilities.

Developed alongside Auckland Council, the fund is intended to revive economic, social and cultural activities across the city over summer and help those in hardship.

The first initiative, called “Explore Tāmaki Makaurau this summer”,will provide 100,000 vouchers to attractions and discounts to council facilities to encourage whānau to visit Auckland attractions, facilities and cultural venues including the zoo, swimming pools and museums.

Commercial operators would have to opt in and could include a range of activities from outdoor adventure to tech exploration.

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The package included a $10m contestable fund for free summer events, such as those organised by business associations, community groups, and cultural organisations.

Ardern said businesses, families and those living in poverty had “borne the brunt” of the past 100 days of Covid-19 restrictions.

“We are very aware of the need to ensure that we have reactivation, that we are bringing people back into our town centres, our city centres, in order to support the businesses that have been [the] hardest hit.

“And this package today is about the win-win of acknowledging Aucklanders, but also supporting our facilities, our green spaces and our businesses,” Ardern said.

A spider monkey reacts to the Prime Minister unveiling of a $37m Auckland recovery fund.
Ricky Wilson/Stuff
A spider monkey reacts to the Prime Minister unveiling of a $37m Auckland recovery fund.

Families will be able to register for the possibility of receiving a $100 voucher or discounts to a number of “iconic events in facilities” across Auckland, she said.

Postcodes would be considered when allocating the vouchers because the Government wanted to ensure “good spread” across families in Tāmaki Makaurau, the prime minister said.

However, Auckland’s hospitality industry was not happy about the announcement.

Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said it was “another kick in the guts” by being left out of the package.

“We are absolutely crushed for our Auckland businesses that have been closed for months on end and are left with nothing in this package,” Bidois said

In September, the association released a number of targeted support options for the Government to consider which included a voucher system that was “eerily similar” to Wednesday’s announcement.

Ardern said a voucher system for hospitality had produced “mixed results” when implemented overseas and were quite difficult to operate.

“Often they were used to encourage people to come in on weekdays. And in some cases that lead to a decline of patrons over weekends.”

The Government would instead provide directly to businesses through a one-off transition payment to businesses affected by higher alert levels in Auckland, Northland and Waikato, she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives at Auckland Zoo.
Ricky Wilson/Stuff
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives at Auckland Zoo.

Bidois said the transition payment was “appreciated” but it didn’t negate the need to be part of a targeted stimulus package in Auckland.

Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni said families need a break, businesses need new customers and those in the most hardship also need help with the basics like food.

“The new funding will encourage whānau to re-engage with the special qualities that make Auckland vibrant, modern and exciting.

“But we also have families experiencing real deprivation and they need immediate support,” Sepuloni said

The package also included a $12m boost for the region’s foodbanks and community food organisations.

It was estimated this could translate to roughly 84,000 food parcels and will be run by the Ministry of Social Development through community providers, Sepuloni said.

Restaurant Association's Marisa Bidois says its disappointing hospitality was left out of the voucher scheme.
SUPPLIED
Restaurant Association's Marisa Bidois says its disappointing hospitality was left out of the voucher scheme.

The Government was encouraging Aucklanders to “rediscover the best of local businesses and visitor attractions” as the region moves into the Covid-19 Protection Framework, otherwise known as the traffic light system, on Friday, she said.

On Monday, Ardern announced most of the country will start in the “orange” traffic light setting, while Auckland and a clutch of other regions in the North Island with lower vaccination rates, will start at red.

About $1.8 billion in wage subsidies had been paid to workers in Auckland, and a further $1b to businesses for fixed costs under the Resurgence Support Payment.

A new transition payment for Auckland, Waikato and Northland would also pay up to $490m to regional businesses.