Liam Dann: Auckland business abandoned and ignored

OPINION:

Auckland’s struggling business community was offered no respite yesterday, no clear pathway forward and no offers of extra support to ease mounting financial stress.

For sometime now it has felt ignored and forgotten by this Government, regarded as inconsequential in the grand scheme of the pandemic response.

Perhaps it is.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson can point to big macro-economic numbers that still look solid.

And there was nothing in the Prime Minister’s language yesterday to suggest any great consideration for the plight of those lockdown-hit businesses now struggling to survive.

Frustration is giving way to despair for many business owners.

From a public health perspective there was an inevitability about the call to push pause on any further loosening of Auckland alert levels, but it was still a cruel blow.

Progress for Auckland retailers remains on hold for at least another week and for hospitality businesses the path out looks even more distant and unclear.

There is understanding about risk of the outbreak expanding too fast but frustration about the Government’s lack of urgency around vaccination mandates.

While welcoming the move for health and education workers, business groups are baffled as to why it doesn’t go further, to support the vaccination efforts of business with a wider, tougher vaccine mandate.

“The same principle that should hold for all workplaces, said Auckland Business Chamber chief executive, Michael Barnett.

“If no jab no job is to be the rule for selected people-facing services by Government order, then it certainly is a principle that business owners would welcome also by Government order, as well as enabling urgent access to rapid testing technologies to better manage and reduce risks.”

It was good to see the focus on getting vaccination rates up, said Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck, “but this needs to be faster and can’t just focus on one or two sectors at a time”.

She called on the Government to implement a deadline for mandatory vaccine passports, to create “urgency and focus”.

With Delta case numbers certain to grow and vaccination offering the only pathway out, this looks like one of those decisions the Government will eventually come around to.

Auckland University epidemiologist Rod Jackson, has also made the call, saying businesses should have been given the mandate yesterday to introduce compulsory vaccinations for staff without fear of being prosecuted.

So why wait?

Every extra week in lockdown is squeezing more life out of Auckland’s economy.

The latest Seek job ad figures for September show the lockdown rebound has begun everywhere – except for Auckland.

Job ad numbers increased in Wellington by 4 per cent (month on month) and Canterbury by 9 per cent.

In Auckland they dropped 8 per cent.

The ongoing lockdown isn’t sending New Zealand’s economy off a cliff.

But that doesn’t mean long term damage isn’t being done.

There may be no way around it for now, but if so then we need to see more recognition and support from the Government.

A care package for Auckland business – both in terms of financial and moral support – seems well overdue.

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