Grilling likely for Key

Prime Minister John Key can expect to face tough questions about the southern economy and the planned job cuts at Invermay when he visits Dunedin today.

Mr Key is in the city to present awards at the Otago Daily Times Class Act function.

Before Class Act, Mr Key will address an Otago Chamber of Commerce-organised function at which Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull expects to be seated next to the prime minister.

Asked whether he would raise the issue of AgResearch's restructuring of Invermay, Mr Cull said: ''Too bloody right. It would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity''.

Early last month, Mr Key declined to meet the ODT to discuss regional and economic development, as there was no time in his diary during a visit to North Otago. Today's chamber function is closed to the media.

The ODT expects Mr Key to face questions from chamber members about the planned loss of 85 jobs from Invermay and the expected impact it will have on businesses, particularly those dealing directly with Invermay-based scientists. Although a final decision on restructuring is still on target for September 26, there is growing unease in the community the decision has already been made.

Yesterday, a letter Mr Cull sent to AgResearch chairman Sam Robinson was obtained by the ODT.

In it, Mr Cull said he was disappointed the AgResearch board decided to decline a meeting with a Dunedin group before staff submissions closed on September 26.

Asked about the letter, Mr Cull said he felt presenting the South's case to the AgResearch board would not affect the board's ability to consult staff.

''This is more extensive than staff relocation. It involves city, regional and national economic development. Because of its importance, we are disappointed we were not able to meet at a governance level.''

The offer was made for Mr Cull, and others, to meet AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson. The mayor said he would never decline an opportunity to meet but because the decision on restructuring would eventually be made by the board, he felt the southern delegation should have been able to put its case at a governance level.

''We wanted the opportunity to show that your analysis had left some key gaps and, in the interests of sound governance, thought your board would have welcomed the chance to meet us,'' he said in the letter.

The letter also said as a result of the board's decision not to meet, the group would take its concerns directly to central government.

Next week, a delegation would meet Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce to outline the proposal for enhancing, rather than reducing, the site, as outlined in AgResearch's ''vision document''.

The people of the southern region were clear they needed and wanted a fully functional research centre based at Invermay.

''Otago and Southland key stakeholders want to ensure AgResearch consults with them before making this decision. We want to be assured the money planned for the hubs at Lincoln and Palmerston North will be used responsibly and will benefit the national economy.

''We also want to be assured that should the decision go ahead unadulterated, that those who make it will be held accountable for any reduced service delivery or loss of productivity in the Otago-Southland region.''

- dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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