The wider benefits

The sun rises over Auckland city. Photo by the New Zealand Herald.
The sun rises over Auckland city. Photo by the New Zealand Herald.
Here we go again.

More centralisation in the three biggest cities, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

More jobs lost in Dunedin and other centres.

This time it is the plans of crown-owned entity Health Benefits Ltd to relocate finance, procurement and supply-chain jobs.

Health Benefits Ltd, it is claimed, will save $500 million over a decade with bulk buying on behalf of all district health boards and the sharing of supplies.

Money needs to be saved in health, and if salaries and overheads of the entity are kept low enough, centralisation might save money.

It is hard to argue against this attempt to do so, even if there may be parallels with the days when the Ministry of Health had more control and before competition between boards was supposed to improve performance and control costs.

That ideology was then dropped - and now back we head towards centralisation.

But why shift everything and everybody to Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, where residents cannot afford houses, where commuting is a nightmare, where massive amounts have to be spent on roads and rail links?

Why build new schools when there is space to spare in other centres?

Why cram and jam, especially to Auckland with its social issues, where insurance is more expensive, where the living is less easy?

More than 50 finance, supply-chain and procurement roles are affected by the proposal, which was released to staff last Friday, and about half the jobs would be either shifted north or eliminated.

Auckland is the biggest beneficiary, particularly in the finance area.

The first instinct of Health Benefits Ltd will be to put the jobs in the largest centres and/or where the entity's senior executives are based.

It might also be reasonable for more of the procurement and supply-chain jobs to be where suppliers are more likely to have representatives and where use is greatest.

But, surely, something like finance can be operated from a smaller centre?

Why couldn't the New Zealand Health Benefits Ltd finance centre be in Dunedin?

Costs and staff turnover should be lower, and it could well be that lower salaries are able to be paid. Certainly, staff are likely to have far more disposable time and money living away from Auckland.

Broadband, video conferences and the like were all supposed to have made it much easier to spread jobs around - and not just to India, the Philippines or in the case of journalism sub-editing jobs from Australia to New Zealand.

But Government and Government organisations seem not to have shown much initiative in this direction.

Why couldn't, for example, tax returns and passports be processed in Dunedin?

The Government proclaims it is not in the business of creating jobs in the ''regions''.

But the problem causing such angst is not the failure to create jobs but, rather, the regular stripping of positions.

Whether it's Invermay and AgResearch, Hillside and KiwiRail, New Zealand Post and mail-sorting rooms or an immigration or passport office, there is a steady diminution in Dunedin.

Dunedin North MP David Clark has raised the issue of the transfer of 30 Lower Hutt-based scientists from Callaghan Innovation's carbohydrate chemistry group, which works on drugs for cancer and other diseases. He says a decision to go to nearby Victoria University is ''all but signed off''.

Given the strength of chemistry and medical research in Dunedin, a shift here would appear much more sensible.

Certainly, this is so when based on the apparent logic of AgResearch about research hubs, even if the researchers in question are entrenched in the Wellington region.

Dunedin has demonstrated remarkable resilience, and there are thriving businesses bringing in outside income and work.

But the Government and its organisations just seem to keep making it harder and harder.

Alleged short-term efficiencies can, in the wider context and the longer term, be anything but beneficial.

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