My work over the last two months has been frantic supporting Nelson through this unprecedented national health emergency. It has involved getting children essential specialist foods, access for families to dying loved ones, permits for people in exceptional circumstances to travel, delivery of food and getting homeless into safe accommodation. My focus has now shifted to Nelson’s economic recovery.
Hundreds of Nelson jobs have already been lost. The sectors hardest hit have been tourism, hospitality, retail, aviation and international students. We have hundreds of small businesses in Nelson that have been bleeding cash for two months who are at risk of going under if we do not act quickly and smartly.
The Government should be commended on the wage subsidy scheme modelled on what National did to support jobs in the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes. The problem is it runs out at the end of this month.
I am advocating for four things to help Nelson’s recovery. Firstly, we need to get Nelson back working with practical rules. I worry that few Ministers have any real world business experience and that excessive rules will just cause more job losses.
The Nelson Council went down this path last week starting $200,000 of work on alterations to Trafalgar Street that would have removed dozens of carparks and making a hotchpotch of our city centre. This was supposedly to make it safe for pedestrians despite the latest evidence showing the risks of getting Covid-19 outside from passers-by is negligible. Thankfully a last minute protest by retailers saw Council boss Pat Dougherty put a stop to the work. It’s a reminder that Councils and Government needs to be closely engaged with business.
Secondly, business needs help with cashflow. The wage subsidy was just money to pass onto workers. These businesses have still had rent, insurance and many other bills to pay with little income. The Government’s tax relief package for small business is poorly designed and of little help. National’s announced policy this week would put an average $50,000 into each of Nelson’s 3,000 small and medium businesses.
Thirdly, we need specific support to rebuild Nelson’s tourism and hospitality sector. Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has been missing in action. We are an attractive domestic destination but it needs strong promotion. We also need to urgently find safe ways to reopen trans-Tasman tourism and the re-entry of international students.
My fourth push is for smart Government infrastructure. I was delighted to see Nelson’s new cycle trials so busy last weekend when biking with family to and from Rabbit Island. This $100m national cycleways came from the 2009 Jobs Summit as part of National’s response to the last economic crisis. We also wisely invested millions in insulating over 3,000 Nelson cold damp homes. The Government needs in this week’s Budget to show the same sort of innovation. I am also pushing to get on with upgrading our hospital and highways.
Nelson has showed tremendous resilience and unity in fighting the virus. We now need the same determination to save jobs and rebuild our economy.