Community approach seen as best for Covid recovery planning

Ongoing planning for the Covid-19 recovery in Central Otago needs to take a collaborative community approach and not be seen as being led by the council.

That was the view presented by Central Otago District Council Covid-19 recovery manager Dylan Rushbrook at a council meeting in Alexandra on Wednesday as he surveyed the impact of the pandemic and the looming labour crisis.

Mr Rushbrook was appointed to the fixed-term role of recovery co-ordinator in June and will lead Central Otago’s response to the impacts of Covid-19.

His appointment came after the Central Otago Recovery Response Group was formed, which consists of business leaders, social agencies and community groups.

It has about 40 members and is chaired by Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan.

However, Mr Rushbrook told councillors it was important to begin to identify members outside the council to ensure full community buy-in.

"What we are very conscious of is we don’t want it to be seen as council-led," he said.

Central Otago’s population had risen about 14% on last year in the wake of Covid-19 hitting and was holding, while visitor numbers were also stable, Mr Rushbrook said.

The "Jobbortunities" programme overseen by the Clutha District Council and something Mr Cadogan had worked on with his brother, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, would hold a regional job expo in Queenstown tomorrow and would be an opportunity to attract workers to Central Otago, he said.

While that was an effort to attract unemployed or retired people, solutions from within the district were also needed, Mr Rushbrook said.

To fill those 5000 positions in horticulture and viticulture normally filled by Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme workers would prove a challenge, he said.

Cr Stephen Jeffery said allowing people on working holiday visas that were expiring to transfer to supplementary seasonal employer visas would go some way but not far enough.

Mr Cadogan said it seemed likely the borders would remain closed to RSE workers.

"Yet we are being told they are picking mangoes in Queensland."

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