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Te Pūkenga executive spend-up a low blow for staff

November 23, 2022 Share

Te Pūkenga’s latest moves to employ highly paid co-leaders while polytechnic teaching and support staff face the chop is offensive, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“I’m astonished that in the wake of Te Pūkenga’s poor financial performance over the past three years, and at a time when the organisation is attempting to claw back on its over-spending, we’re seeing this largesse.

“Te Pūkenga is advertising for eight new co-leaders, each earning between $200,000 and $350,000 a year, while teaching and support staff at the mega polytechnic are on tenterhooks over future job losses.

“Acting chief executive Peter Winder last month announced a $63 million deficit. How can Te Pūkenga management justify this expenditure while at the same time taking the axe to vocational and trades education across the country?

“The extravagance of these new senior management co-leadership positions and their corresponding high salaries fly in the face of the dramatic cuts that everyday polytechnic staff are expected to make, with $10 million in savings from work-based learning and $25 million across former polytechnics being enforced.

“Employing highly paid co-leadership executives will do nothing for the already low staff morale and reflects a misguided view that these senior management positions are more important than teaching staff.

“Surely the Education Minister must be concerned about this reckless spending when he has recently asked Te Pūkenga to be more financially responsible.

“This is yet another example of the Labour Government’s fixation with centralisation, co-leadership and co-governance ideology, that’s strangling the regions and building a head office bureaucracy that is big in costs and little in value.

“It will do nothing to improve the serious skills shortage being felt around New Zealand, nor will it provide taxpayers with the reassurance that the Government’s polytechnic mega-merger is back on track.”


Media contact: Matt Young, 021 526 090

SIT job losses as Te Pukenga moves to right deficit

October 24, 2022 Share

Job losses are on the cards at SIT, as the Government comes clean on how it proposes to balance the books of its embattled industry training mega-merger Te Pukenga, Invercargill MP and National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“Te Pukenga, which now runs the country’s polytechnics, is currently forecasting a $63m deficit for 2022 and on Friday afternoon its acting Chief Executive Peter Winder announced it wanted to make cuts of $25m at polytechnics and $10m across work-based learning, to make savings.

“In the Southern region that will effectively mean $2million in cuts at SIT and about $2.7million at Otago Polytechnic.

“I already know that staff cuts will be the most likely option here, with very little left in the system at SIT, after cost reductions and a freeze on employment was ordered by Te Pukenga earlier this year.

“These cuts will have a huge impact on our region and its employers, and are a slap in the face to the local staff who’ve maintained quality teaching, battled Covid and keep going in the face of uncertainty over the past three years of Te Pukenga restructuring.

“I’m absolutely disgusted at the Government’s mishandling of this mega-merger. I’m sad for the Southland staff who will now lose their jobs and I’m devastated at what Chris Hipkins has done to SIT and trades training in this province.

“The Government spent $200 million setting up Te Pukenga - where have the millions gone – and why, after three years of denial, is it only now being confirmed that Te Pukenga is all about increased head office bureaucracy and polytechnic jobs cuts in the places like Southland.

“Shockingly only “prudent” savings have been tagged at this time for Te Pukenga’s head office – with absolutely no real changes announced for the inefficient polytechnic’s who triggered this ill-fated mega-merger in the first place.

“At a time when Southland has critical labour shortages, our major vocational training institute is being stripped away by a Labour Government intent on pushing through its ideological changes, despite the immense and damaging effects it will have.”

Southland Groundswell protest reflects strength of farmer feeling

October 20, 2022 Share

Southland farmers tell me that they feel like they’re under siege and the strength of today’s Groundswell protest reflects their genuine concern about the Government’s agricultural emissions proposals, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“The massive turn out at today’s Groundswell event, where farmers rallied to show their dismay at the action’s of this Government, shows the strength of feeling in the South.

“The Government’s emissions pricing scheme is another kick in the guts for farmers, which threatens the future of the rural sector in the South.

“I’m deeply concerned at the implications of the Government’s proposals, which will effectively price farming off the market for a large number of people within the sector and risk leaving our rural communities in despair.

“This province, and indeed this country, needs the rural sector. We’ve said it time and again how crucial farming is to our economy - that’s why I’m dismayed at the way the government constantly wants to nail the sector.

“The Government’s emissions proposal will see up to 20 per cent of the capacity of sheep and beef farming lost by 2030 – while forcing emissions to increase offshore, as production and jobs move overseas.

“It’s impractical and it’s unfair and farmers, rural communities and New Zealand cannot afford a blow like this.

“National supports agriculture paying its way, but believes the Government’s proposed costs are unacceptable especially when, with more care, there will be a better way to reduce emissions without so much damage.”

Emissions Plan another Kick in the Guts for Farmers

October 12, 2022 Share

Another kick in the guts for farmers, which threatens the future of farming in the South – that’s how Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds has described the Government’s farm emissions plan.

“I’m deeply concerned at the implications of the Government’s proposals, which will effectively price farming off the market for a large number of people within the sector and risk leaving our rural communities in despair.

“Yes, there has to be change, but let’s not forget that our farmers are already the most carbon efficient in the world and nowhere else in the world is imposing a carbon tax on their agricultural sector.

“These proposals, will see one-fifth of our sheep and beef farmers gone by 2030, along with a five percent reduction in the dairy sector, which would send production and jobs offshore to less efficient farms, therefore raising global emissions. It’s a lose-lose situation which undermines everything that our farmers are already doing to lower their emissions.

“The only way forward is an industry-led solution based on available science and technology, not regulations imposed by a Government and its bureaucrats who think they can run the rural sector from their offices in Wellington. 

“National supports New Zealand's emissions targets, including reaching carbon net zero by 2050. We acknowledge that New Zealand needs to cut its overall carbon emissions and reduce agriculture

SDHB - 24 hour ED wait times appalling, but inevitable

August 19, 2022 Share

Some patients in the South are waiting more than 24 hours to access emergency department care, but Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says she’s not surprised considering the state of local health services.         

“New data shows that in April of this year, 13 people waited more than 24 hours to be seen in an emergency department operated by the previous Southern District Health Board – the third highest rate in the country.

“This is an appalling delay for people who are unwell, but it’s not surprising considering the poor state of health services in this province.

“GP’s aren’t taking on new patients, creating a large unenrolled population, which means people are sicker when they get to hospital and take extra time to be seen.

“Urgent doctor care is also limited in Invercargill and expensive, so people end up at the city’s ED, the service is over-run and wait times explode.

“Eighteen months ago emergency department pressures were highlighted, along with GP and hospital staff shortages, and a lack of beds and operating theatre space at our hospital, but nothing was done.

“My concerns at the time were validated by Southland GP’s, specialists and patients, and then confirmed by a Clinical Needs Analysis, from consultants Sapere Research Group in June, stating that health services in Southland were ‘in crisis mode’ and needed urgent action.

“Despite alarm bells ringing loudly, the Health Minister has consistently ignored local concerns, instead promising his $486 million health restructure plan would make things right - so far it hasn’t.

“The lack of improvements is frustrating and I am genuinely worried about local health services, with these appalling ED wait times just the tip of the iceberg. 

"I wonder how serious things will have to get before the Government is forced to act.”

Te Pūkenga’s leadership plan misses the mark

August 17, 2022 Share

Te Pūkenga’s leadership consultation plan is big on spin but short on specifics, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“Yesterday’s long-awaited document was a complete let-down. Te Pūkenga’s management had an opportunity to show real leadership and provide specific details on how the mega-merger was actually going to operate.

“Instead, we have a document that is thin on detail, riddled with idealistic language and provides none of the specifics that staff, learners, industry and local communities have been calling for.

“Most details on reshaping the sector - including the futures of staff and specific training programmes - have been kicked to touch until next year. This is simply not good enough.

“Staff job concerns may be alleviated for the next four months with guarantees of positions on 1 January 2023, but there’s no detail on staff restructuring beyond that date.  

“It is insulting for Te Pūkenga’s 13,000 staff to receive this ambiguous document which will determine their futures, while being offered just a three-week window to make their views known.

“It’s also ironic that Te Pūkenga’s acting Chief Executive Peter Winder has highlighted this process as being ‘a key step’ in the mega-merger’s restructure, but staff have given just three weeks to consider and submit on an ambiguous document.

“Once again, Te Pūkenga has failed to deliver. Management has produced a lightweight consultation document that is destined to achieve only limited results, leaving staff and learners in limbo.”

Figures show Southern Measles campaign a big disappointment

August 15, 2022 Share

The Government’s $20 measles vaccination catch-up programme has been a big disappointment in the South, Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

 “Completed last month, just 1292 people in the Southern District Health Board region were vaccinated as part of the programme, in the two years between July 2020 and 30 June 2022.

 “That equates to about 12 people a week in the Southern area – not a great success rate when the Health Minster has spent a whopping $20 million on the campaign. 

 “Across the country just 23,500 were vaccinated, despite the Government saying its multi-million programme would reach 300,000 people.

 “To me this is another major fail from Andrew Little and a serious waste of taxpayer’s money, which could have been spent more productively on so many other areas in our health system.

 “This program was extremely badly handled, with promotional material taking three months to arrive and the Government forced to destroy $8 million worth of expired measles vaccine due to the poor uptake.

 “The Health Minister continues to fail to deliver for Southlanders. He has failed to deliver a health workforce, failed people who’ve been forced to wait longer for surgery, failed our elderly in rest homes and now he has failed to deliver a measles vaccine programme, costing taxpayers $20 milion.

 “This program was extremely badly handled, with promotional material taking three months to arrive and the Government forced to destroy $8 million worth of expired measles vaccine due to the poor uptake.

 “Minister Little continues to fail to deliver for Southlanders. He has failed to deliver a health workforce, failed people who’ve been forced to wait longer for surgery, failed our elderly in rest homes and now he has failed to deliver a measles vaccine programme, costing taxpayers $20 million.”

Unfair that Southern Polytechnics expected to trim millions

August 05, 2022 Share

Polytechnics in the South are being forced to cut millions from their budgets because the Government’s mega-merger polytechnic entity Te Pūkenga is in such a mess, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson and Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says.

“The Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) will be required to cut about $1.5 million from its budget this year, and Otago Polytechnic about $2.8 million, as Te Pūkenga management ask institutes across the country to slash costs by 3 per cent to reduce its debt.

“Forcing top performing institutes like SIT and Otago Polytechnic to cut costs to prop up the troubled mega-merger structure, including the bloated head office, is blatantly unfair.

“Te Pūkenga, which now runs the country’s institutes of technology and polytechnics, is facing a forecasted $110 million deficit this year - something the Education Minister has ordered them to rectify - but why make successful polytechnics like SIT and Otago to pay the price.

“It’s frustrating that Te Pūkenga’s head office has taken this broad-brush approach to cut costs, expecting all polytechnics to make sacrifices rather than focussing on those institutes that have not been operating efficiently.

“This effectively means well-managed polytechnics are penalised, only adding to the stress and uncertainty institutes and their staff, like SIT are already facing.

“This slash and burn approach will do nothing to improve Te Pūkenga’s long-term sustainability, nor bring about the financial efficiencies that the Government’s reforms promised.

“There are also indications that this may not be the end of the cuts imposed in institutes. Te Pūkenga’s acting chief executive Peter Winder said they were looking at how further savings could be made, including axing unviable programmes and replacing face-to-face learner engagement with more in-work learning.

“It is clear that Labour’s attempts to restructure New Zealand’s polytechnics and technical institutes are a shambles. Our local institutions, and their students, are already paying the price.”

Western Star Column June 2022

July 25, 2022 Share

Originally published as a column in the Western Star

The force with which the Government is pushing through its Three Waters reforms is alarming and its communities like those in Western Southland that will pay the price.

I attended a Groundswell Three Waters meeting in Invercargill recently, where there were about 700 people, and I saw first-hand the level of concern and frustration people have about these reforms.

They’re worried about the loss of local assets, the potential for water costs to increase and the fact that the Government has not heard people’s views.

Labour wants a centralised, one-size-fits-all model, with less local voice for our communities, so they do not want to listen to what local people want. 

The first reading debate on the Water Services Entities Bill (Three Waters) last week showed Labour has decided their amalgamation agenda is more important than the views of the public.

My colleague, and National's Local Government spokesperson Simon Watts, even proposed an amendment to the select committee motion - to extend the process so that communities across the country could have their voices heard on this legislation. 

Labour voted it down - a clear message they want to force these reforms through by the end of the year.

Labour may not be listening to New Zealanders but National is, and if elected in 2023, we will repeal and replace Three Waters.

Labour’s mega polytechnic Te Pūkenga in disarray

July 11, 2022 Share

Labour’s mega polytechnic Te Pūkenga is a shambles that couldn’t have come at a worse time amid New Zealand’s growing skills shortage, National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds says.

“We’ve got Chief Executive Stephen Town taking indefinite personal leave, staff reeling against proposed curriculum changes, a $110 million deficit forecast, declining enrolments, a damning Tertiary Education Commission report, and prospects of job losses in the regions to help balance the books.

“Chris Hipkins has spent $200 million on Te Pūkenga and has made New Zealand's vocational education sector worse.

“At a time when New Zealand has critical labour shortages, our major vocational training sector is in dire straits because Chris Hipkins didn’t listen to warnings that his centralised mega polytechnic, Te Pūkenga, was not the right model and was fundamentally flawed from the start.

“Te Pūkenga failings were outlined in a damning report from the Tertiary Education Commission to the Minister earlier this year which contained handwritten comments from Chris Hipkins.

“Chris Hipkins asked what efficiencies they are achieving? If he didn’t know the answer to that, why did he merge the 16 polytechnics in the first place?

“Labour cannot achieve anything. If they cannot successfully merge 16 polytechnics, how on earth can they merge 20 district health boards successfully?

“This country’s polytechnics, their students and staff, and indeed the taxpayers of New Zealand all deserve an explanation from the Minister, or at least some leadership from the man whose idea it was to disassemble this sector."