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    Auckland mayors lukewarm on job creation taskforce
    19 SEPTEMBER 2000


    Auckland mayors are shunning a taskforce of their colleagues who have signed an agreement with the Government declaring war on unemployment.

    The country's other three main centres are represented on the taskforce, which had 21 mayors on board when the Government launched a memorandum of understanding in Wellington last week. Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton and Social Services Minister Steve Maharey will meet the taskforce every three months to review progress.

    But Auckland mayors were nowhere to be seen, with some saying they prefer to concentrate on jobs and business development initiatives on their own turf.

    Their views have not stopped the taskforce sending a $5000 bill to the North Shore City Council for its share of the taskforce's cost, although the budget will also be boosted by a sweetener of about $80,000 from the Government.

    Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore, the taskforce convener, said he was confident his Auckland counterparts would join the cause once they saw the first fruits of the new alliance between central and local government leaders representing a million New Zealanders.

    "Auckland has always been a bit slow joining these sorts of things. I know it's hard for people to get their heads around what we are doing but I'm sure sanity will prevail."

    The taskforce has yet to produce an action plan, but its first goal will be to find jobs or training for everyone aged under 25 by 2005.

    One idea promoted by Mr Moore is to allow young people who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks to use their unemployment benefits to subsidise themselves into work.

    Mr Maharey, who is also Employment Minister, said on a visit to Auckland yesterday that the agreement with the mayors was historic in that the Government had never before recognised local leaders as true partners in battling unemployment.

    North Shore Mayor George Wood attended the taskforce's inaugural meeting in Christchurch in April and was the only Aucklander present, although other northern districts such as Kaipara, Hamilton, Hauraki and Thames-Coromandel were represented.

    But Mr Wood said yesterday that his council's main thrust was encouraging businesses to move to and stay in its territory, thus creating more jobs to keep North Shore residents on their side of the Harbour Bridge.

    He pointed to annual council spending of $400,000 on its business development arm, Enterprise North Shore, and a pledge of $500,000 towards a high-tech enterprise centre at Massey University's Albany campus.

    Mayor Christine Fletcher was unavailable, but a spokesman said her council was also concentrating on promoting economic development, although it had not ruled out some involvement with the taskforce.

    Mr Moore said the taskforce fee of 5c a ratepayer to a maximum of $5000 was a small price for forming a common front against the social curse of unemployment.