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Heartland Services Initiative

Rural people will get improved access to government services through the "Heartland Services Initiative".

Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey and Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton said today the Heartland initiative aimed to improve face to face' contact with government agencies for people in rural areas.

The initiative will improve government service delivery through government staff synchronising their visits to remote towns once or twice a month as part of an "outreach" service, and through the establishment of or participation in service centres in some smaller provincial towns.

Mr Maharey and Mr Sutton said the initiative would be progressively rolled-out as collaborative arrangements between agencies are made.

"It is an evolutionary approach, but one that as it takes place will support isolated communities and voluntary agencies in rural areas.

"Social services most sought by rural communities include benefits and pensions, employment, childcare and protection, rental housing, tax and family assistance, Maori land issues and accident compensation.

"Government agencies such as ACC, the Maori Land Court, Housing NZ, IRD, the Department of Work and Income and others are to work together so they time their business in a small rural town on the same day of the month.

"Currently, direct contact with the deliverers of these services is often only available in larger centres. The purpose of the initiative is to bring the services directly to the more remote rural towns.

"This will be of real benefit to rural people who otherwise face great inconvenience or cost as they deal with the different agencies from a distance."

Remote towns being considered for an "outreach" service to improve direct access to government service include Maungaturoto, Ohakune, Katikati, Tokomaru Bay, Cromwell, Ranfurly, Hokitika and Winton.

Service centres will provide a central place for the delivery of a range of related Government and community services.

A service centre could be located in an existing government building, or some other suitable location. Community and local authority support, the availability of suitable premises, the capacity and need for government departments to participate and funding would generally be required.

"The initiative has attracted community interest and support in areas where its potential introduction has been raised, such as Dannevirke, Northland, Turangi and South Taranaki. Joint government and community working groups are already developing proposals which it is hoped will come to fruition over the coming months.

"The Heartland Services is a Government-supported initiative to help bring the heart back into our rural communities," the Ministers said.


Heartland Services Initiative: Questions and Answers

What is a Heartland Services Initiative?

There are two components to the Heartland Services Initiative:

q The establishment of (or participation in) service centres in certain smaller provincial centres; q The provision of regular joint departmental "outreach" services to remote communities

The initiative builds on improving government interagency co-operation to the benefit of the rural community.

Why are these services being established?

q To improve access to government services for people in rural areas q Improve government interagency collaboration q Support community/voluntary agencies in rural areas

Studies have shown that the past 15 years of restructuring of services has meant many rural people now just have remote access to government services. Even the commercial centres of rural districts now have few government agencies other than schools, the Police and the Department of Work and Income.

However the populations of many small towns and rural areas are growing from natural increase and migration. Migration of people on low incomes to rural towns has led to the transfer of some urban social issues to rural areas where there are fewer on the ground support services.

Many people in rural areas see delivery of government services as fragmented and lacking in co-ordination. This can cause direct and indirect financial and other costs for rural people.

This initiative is designed to help improve the delivery of Government services.

How will these services be established?

Before a service centre is developed or an outreach service established a number of factors will have to be considered. These are:

q District council and community interest to provide local leadership and support q The availability of suitable, existing premises (which, in relation particularly to the outreach service, offer a safe and secure environment for staff) q The capacity of the government departments to participate q Availability of finance (for service centres)

When and where are these services going to be established?

Rollout of the outreach service can be managed within existing departmental funding and can therefore go ahead now, subject to community interest and capacity of government departments to participate.

ACC, Maori Land Court, Housing NZ, Inland Revenue Department, and the Department of Work and Income are already working on implementing this initiative in a small number of areas. Other departments are being asked to consider how they might join in.

There are establishment and ongoing costs associated with setting up the Service Centres, for such things as rent, fit-out and furnishings, receptionist etc. Costs would vary from site to site, depending on the location and building chosen. Further work is underway as to how these might be funded.

In the meantime, it is expected a small number of centres can get started soon through using existing government offices. At this stage, premises in Northland, Paeroa, Turangi and South Taranaki are being looked at for suitability. Officials are also looking at other areas to see what options might be available.

Are any in operation now?

An outreach service began in the South Hokianga in October following strong community interest and support. It involves a number of government agencies synchronising their visits to the area.

How will the community or voluntary sector benefit?

Community interest and support for either a service centre or an outreach service is important if their introduction is to be effective and the investment, in terms of time and travel, worthwhile. Local councils can provide leadership and community support for the service improvement.

It is a longer-term aim that the service centres would see voluntary or community groups located in the same building as government agencies, so the voluntary sector can gain some tangible support from the government agencies they are working with, through sharing resources like meeting and interview rooms, training facilities and photocopying equipment.

That would provide a one-stop shop for people in the community and improve the linkages between government and community services in communities. However there are a number of issues still to be worked through in this initial stage, such as security of tenure for community organisations.


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