Negativity concern for English

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says he is concerned the ''Stand Up Otago'' campaign is ''a bit too negative about the South'' when it has been performing better economically than the North.

The Finance Minister and Clutha-Southland MP told the Otago Daily Times in Queenstown yesterday if there is a two-speed economy, then Dunedin is on the fast track, not the slow track.

''Employment growth is faster than all of the North Island, except Taranaki,'' Mr English said.

''Per capita GDP is up there ahead of most parts of New Zealand, so they just need to be careful they're not talking the South down.

''It's actually been doing pretty well. There's job creation going on, unemployment is significantly lower than it is up North, which tells you that even if there's been job losses, there's also been new jobs and they need to take account of the new jobs.

''If you want to attract business, investment and jobs, then you want to be telling a positive story, not a negative one.''

Mr English said the Minister for Economic Development was providing campaigners with information about just what public resources have gone into Dunedin and they were ''very considerable''.

He said he understood concern about the series of job losses and it was particularly difficult for people who lost their jobs, but unemployment in Southland is about 4%.

''We've had to adapt in Eastern Southland and that's proportionately much larger than the job losses being talked about in Dunedin, but people just got on with it,'' he said.

''I think we can all help the South by balancing that with a focus on job creation.''

Mr English said he did not accept the economy was being driven by Auckland and Christchurch, while the rest of New Zealand was struggling.

The economy was being driven largely by growth in provincial areas. High house prices should not be be mistaken for economic growth and unemployment in Auckland was still 50% higher than it was in the South Island, he said.

''Those two cities picking up are going to help the New Zealand economy, but they are picking up from being well behind.''

Mr English said the AgResearch proposal of creating a hub in Lincoln was a model which was standard around the world.

Asked for his personal opinion of the centralisation model, Mr English said he would have to consider it, as a cabinet minister, but all the questions raised by southern leaders needed to be answered.


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