Emperor's clothes stripped bare by jobless figures
"This is why the “sheer brilliance” of the central city rebuild plan - in the words of one commentator - evokes the parable of the emperor’s clothes."Featured comment
If the unemployment figures released this week had shown improvement, the usual people would have been taking the credit.
The unexpectedly poor results were dismissed as a blip, a statistical anomaly.
One youthful radio journalist repeated the silly spin that if the Canterbury figures were left out, the decline was much less significant.
NZX-listed Kiwi Income Property used this line at its annual meeting held in the Garden City – if the effects of the earthquakes in Christchurch and Wellington were excluded, the value of the whole portfolio would have been steady rather than lower.
The effects can’t be excluded so why bother with the wishful thinking?
Back to unemployment.
The local Christchurch newspaper’s Thursday lead story was a gushing rave about how infrastructure repair firms would be seeking another 1000 workers soon.
The good news machine was deflated by the afternoon’s release of the employment figures revealing that Canterbury unemployment was up 0.8%, to 8.5% (compared to the national figure of 6.8%), employment was down -5.5%, and there was an estimated decrease in employment of 15,700 women mostly in education, health and welfare in the region.
And Canterbury is the region the government has claimed will lead New Zealand’s economic recovery.
Ever since the first earthquakes there have been anecdotal reports about tradesmen leaving Christchurch.
Five Irish plasterers and painters who frequented one of my local pubs for several weeks packed up and went home about three months ago.
Another experienced and skilled builder tells me he cannot obtain work under Fletcher Building because he doesn’t have the necessary certificates.
A major bottleneck is EQC’s handling of insurance claims.
EQC chief executive Ian Simpson has acknowledged that insurance settlements will not be completed for another nine months.
A drive through the sodden eastern suburbs this week brought home to me once again the enormity of what has happened.
Lumpy roads falling apart, pavements all over the place, entire neighbourhoods where houses slump into the old swamps at weird angles, bare sections where some have been demolished, broken windows, abandoned furniture, toys.
Damage is also highly visible on the hillside suburbs, with boards covering windows and lost cladding.
Even in the well-heeled western there are thousands of badly damaged homes on land classified as TC3 or liquefaction-prone. They are deteriorating.
Against this backdrop we had the hoopla launch two weeks ago of the central city rebuild which will cost ratepayers billions.
How will residents react to soaring council rates demands if they are still awaiting a builder in two years?
City councillors have suddenly become increasingly important.
Even though they have been sidelined by the direct ministry rule via the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, they still have a major role as representatives of the city.
They are likely to able to influence the scale and absurd cost of the central city blueprint.
This week, perhaps for the first time, they began to talk about actively advocating on behalf of residents and demanding explanations from EQC boss Ian Simpson when he meets them next week.
It was notable that the discussion was led by councillor Tim Carter (son of Rich Lister Philip), and it was notable that mayor Bob Parker was absent.
Mr Carter highlighted how repairs had mostly been carried out on homes with minor damage in the less affected and wealthier suburbs, which have also enjoyed work on footpaths and roads.
All of the councillors agreed it was time to demand better treatment of the elderly, young families and vulnerable people, and better co-ordinated effort between insurers, EQC, CERA and its Central City Development Unit, and the city council.
Most residents, even in the worst affected places are amazingly resilient and well connected to their local communities – excluding the dissipating red zones.
We continue to socialise and do all the usual things people do in every New Zealand city.
But until the home repair programme really gets going the property market is stalled, except for those with red zone payouts heading for neighbouring districts.
It may not matter too much for residents who are settled and employed.
But lives are on hold for countless others, while many elderly folk seem destined to leave their broken homes to their children to battle it out with insurers.
This is why the “sheer brilliance” of the central city rebuild plan – in the words of one commentator – evokes the parable of the emperor’s clothes.