Business to Government: We can do a lot more together

Source: Q and A

The team of five million is on the bench and ready to play, if only the Government would call on them. That's the message from business leaders who have written an open letter to the Government calling for more clarity about, and input into, the plans for New Zealand in a 'Covid normal' world.

Rob Campbell is the chair of Sky City, Tourism Holdings and Summerset Retirement Villages, and the Chancellor of Auckland University of Technology.

He told Q+A that it's been a traumatic year and while the Government's initial response has been very good, Covid-19 will be around the globe in one form or another for a couple of years.

So, he says, it's important that plans are put in place to navigate the new 'Covid normal' future.

"I don't think New Zealand was well prepared for this. I think over the years our public health agencies and capacity have been degraded," Campbell says.

"When it hit I think we've done marvellously well, tremendous political leadership, everyone has scrambled together, we've made it up as we went along and done really well."

He says it's not about promoting sectional interests, it's about recognising "we're not well prepared for the future ahead, we think we can do a lot more together".

Campbell wants the Government to widen the team they call on. 

"We know there is uncertainty, but the issue is managing that uncertainty. And I think channelling everything through the Ministry of Health, which is essentially a policy ministry, is one of the blockages that we have."

He says the whole community needs to be involved.

"We have resources in our businesses that are brilliant at logistics, a lot better than the government agency will have, they should be drawn on," he says.

"We have people in the community who have much better knowledge about how to get to local populations they should be drawn on."

He says the suspicion that business is only advocating in its own interests is not accurate.

"Quite often business can be self-serving, quite a lot of the time, but it's not always, and in these sorts of national emergency situations there is an ability to, I think, draw on the skills and capacities we have."

Campbell argues everyone needs to be participating in decisions about New Zealand's future.

"Everyone should have a say, and that should be taken into account," he says.

"It shouldn't be driven by big business, we're only one part of the interests of society. 

"What we're saying is we have resources, we have planners, we have procurement people, we have logistics people, those people should be drawn on because it's expertise which isn't naturally available to a lot of the Government agencies because they don't always have to deal with these things."

He argues it's not about having the ear of the Prime Minister or her ministers, it's about government departments accessing the best and brightest Aotearoa has to offer.

"I think that if there were an agency that was really proactive, it would have said: 'These are the skills that we need, could the private sector provide these', and maybe we all second a few people there who expert in that area."

Covid 19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, told Q+A they already have people seconded from the private sector working on the vaccine rollout. 

"We've got people from Fonterra, from freight and logistics companies, HR professionals ... so the private sector is a big part of our rollout plan here, they are involved in those decisions and they are playing a really, really important role.

"We have focused on bringing in that private sector expertise."

He says he understands that businesses want more certainty "and some of that we can give, and some of that we simply can't give". 

"They want to know when Covid-19 is going to be over, when is life going to get back to normal. I think we all want to know the answer to that, and at this point I don't have an answer."

Nigel Cottle co-owns Crave Café in Morningside in Auckland. He says it's been a nervous few weeks as they went in and out of lockdown.

"We really appreciate the Government's help, and we support the Government in terms of its decision making. It's frustrating but we know it's essentially not their fault."

But he says they do need more, including "a continued push into the hospitality sector in particular".

He supports the idea of a Minister for Hospitality. 

"I think there's $40 billion going through that industry, and it's a big deal, but there's no one specifically looking after it, and I think it's about time."