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Maharey Notes: Forum Focuses Minds On Skills Gap

Forum Focuses Nelson Minds On Local Skills Gap

Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey travelled to Nelson last week for the first of a nationwide series of forums on how to address regional skill shortages. Low unemployment across New Zealand is creating difficulties that New Zealand has not experienced for some time. A lack of skilled staff is cited by some firms as impeding their growth potential. In the Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough districts there are currently only approximately 1,500 registered job seekers leading to intense competition for suitable workers. Official advice predicts that demand for additional staff in the region will remain high this year.

Steve Maharey said the government has the ability to significantly tailor employment and skills training programmes to meet local employer needs and to ensure local job seekers are able to take up these positions. The Ministry of Social Development, working in partnership with a range of government and non-government organisations, is able to bridge the pool of potential workers looking for work, but lacking appropriate entry level skills, into employment and support them to stay there.

Across this year the social services and employment Ministerial team intends bringing together employers, unions, training providers and government departments in regionally-based forums to concretely identify what further steps can be taken to ease skill shortages and grow local economies. The Nelson forum was the first of 13 planned around the country this year, including further forums in Waitakere city (21 March) and Hamilton (17 April).

SOCIAL WORKERS IN SCHOOLS New Social Workers in Schools positions were confirmed last week. The programme is designed to provide early help to children and families in order to prevent problems becoming more serious and difficult to overcome. The government provided an additional funding in Budget 2002 to enable a small expansion of the scheme to priority schools. There are now 78 social workers serving children and families in over 200 primary and intermediate schools in 30 regions across the country. New social workers will be based in Kaitaia, Dargaville, Hamilton, Tokoroa, New Plymouth, Taumaranui, and Masterton.

Part of the additional funding gained in the 2002 Budget was also directed to providing additional support to existing social workers employed under the scheme in line with the recommendations from an independent evaluation of the programme by Massey University.

AUCKLAND HOMES SECURED About 1700 Aucklanders now have a new landlord, and for many the change means there is less rent to pay. The government has formally taken possession of houses previously owned by the Auckland City Council (ACC). About $82 million was paid for the 1542 pensioner units and 124 residential housing units. In addition the government will spend $75 million upgrading and redeveloping the properties over the next five years.

Speaking at a function to mark the handover Prime Minister Helen Clark said most of the people affected by the sale are superannuitants who had endured enormous stress in the last year as the threat of a sell-off hung over them. The government's move to buy the houses has bought them security because they could not have afforded to stay in their homes if the units had been sold to the private sector. If the government had not bought these houses, many older Aucklanders would have been forced out of the communities where they have lived all their lives

Low-income tenants of the properties who qualify for an income related rent will pay no more than 25 per cent of their income on rent.

The next step now is to begin upgrading and redeveloping the properties. Planning and investigation work is underway, and some work could start within six months, but it will be a gradual process over the next five years. In addition to the work being planned for the former Auckland City Council properties, the government plans to acquire about 650 additional properties in the Auckland area through building, buying or leasing this financial year.

TVNZ'S CHARTER COMES INTO FORCE Parliament has passed legislation establishing the charter to guide Television New Zealand and separating its broadcast and transmission functions. Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey said the primary value of broadcasters lies in their contribution to the cultural and social wealth of a nation. Television New Zealand's charter will ensure the broadcaster makes a major contribution to the development of New Zealand's cultural and national identity. As a commercial broadcaster Television New Zealand achieved a lot, but the government's view is that under a new public service model it can make an even greater contribution to national development.

the Charter has been posted to TVNZ's website at

CHARITIES COMMISSION Cabinet has agreed to the final shape of the new Charities Commission being established next year. The commission developed out of a recommendation from the charities working party which reported to government in 2002. It will be responsible for registering organisations seeking charitable status, monitoring their activities, receiving annual returns, providing advice and support to the sector and advising the government on charity-related issues. Finance Minister Michael Cullen said the Commission will have statutory independence in relation to registration decisions but will operate under the aegis of the Minister of Commerce and the Ministry of Economic Development. Legislation to establish the Commission is expected to be introduced to Parliament by the middle of the year.

STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATE HELD Cabinet has decided to hold the headline student loan interest rate at 7 percent for the year beginning 1 April 2003, despite the formula used to set the rate suggesting a slight rise to 7.1 percent. The government is currently reviewing student support arrangements and it was not thought appropriate to increase the rate while the review is proceeding. The review will look at ways to make student allowances available to a greater number of students, while setting out fair rules for determining the contribution students make to the cost of their study.

CREDIT TRANSFER Tertiary learners can be assured that if they move from one place of learning to another, or one course to another, what they've achieved will not be lost, under a new credit transfer policy announced last week.

Supporting Learning Pathways Credit Recognition and Transfer Policy that on supporting the learner. While credit recognition and credit transfer are not new concepts, they are increasingly important in a coherent tertiary education sector. A common set of principles, agreed to by all providers, will provide consistency and surety for students. Providers have agreed to have consistent credit recognition and credit transfer process in place from January 2004.

The policy is supported by the New Zealand Register of Quality Assured Qualifications, which will be online in July this year and will enable the public to view and compare all qualifications that have been quality assured in New Zealand. It was developed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, working with a group from across the tertiary sector, including universities, polytechnics, wananga, student associations, and private training establishments and will be implemented by the relevant quality assurance bodies as part of their approval, accreditation and quality assurance roles.

Supporting Learning Pathways Credit Recognition and Transfer Policy,

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