A new package of infrastructure investments has the potential to help kick-start the post-COVID rebuild, but these projects need to get started soon to ensure the construction industry can retain its skilled workforce.
Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Peter Silcock said today’s announcement from Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones outlined the structure of the $3b COVID Response and Recovery Fund and its regional allocation, but details were needed so the industry could do the project and workforce planning that was needed.
Mr Silcock said only 12 of around 150 projects had been announced, and details of the remainder were sorely needed for industry to plan its future workforce needs and provide meaningful employment in infrastructure construction for communities.
“Today’s announcements represented commitment to the role construction can and must play in New Zealand’s economic recovery. We now know the intention and makeup of the projects. That’s great, but we now need clarity about exactly what’s happening and when it will come to market.”
He said the regional distribution and the nature of the projects mentioned seemed appropriate so far and taking the projects to tender would give civil contractors the confidence they needed first to retain people, and then to support workforce redeployment from other sectors.
“Time is of the essence. These projects are hugely important to our communities. We’re talking about 20,000 jobs and vital services. It's about keeping people employed, about delivering community outcomes. We need details in the form of specific projects and tenders coming to market ASAP, or we may see extensive job losses.”
Mr Silcock said a lack of tenders coming to market had contractors very worried, and the industry had been staring down the barrel of a sizable gap in projects and prospective job losses across the construction and engineering sectors. This was largely due to reduced spending from private clients and local government after many experienced reduced incomes.
While transport infrastructure was mentioned, he was very surprised not to see more in the three waters space given its critical importance and urgency as the country’s aging water systems begin to fail after years of underinvestment, he said.
“We’re looking forward to hearing more about the plans for water management. Our country’s investment in three waters is hugely important, and we are looking forward to further announcements from government around upcoming work in this space.”
Mr Silcock said today’s lifting of the local government debt cap was also positive and would help local authorities to invest in their communities and support their economies at a local level.