28 Sep 2020

Another private managed isolation plan to be proposed after elections

8:53 am on 28 September 2020

Work is going on behind the scenes to progress plans for privately run pay-as-you go managed isolation hotels, with Auckland's economic development agency taking the lead.

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility.

Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development wants to take a proposal to policymakers after the general election (File image). Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development (ATEED) is in talks with government officials about opening up the border to critical skilled workers who would pay to stay in separate isolation hotels to returning Kiwis.

This week the agency is gathering leaders from different sectors to start work on a joint proposal.

Chief executive Nick Hill said talks had also begun with government officials.

"It's not an ideological debate, it's a question of designing solutions in a world that's changing all the time and learning more and coming up with things that will work as the private sector, as the public sector, as political leaders," he said.

"We are working in a very practical detailed way with various groups in Auckland, to work with officials in Wellington, to help inform the flow of advice that then goes through to the government and these are not easy issues."

The government has rejected the idea of private managed isolation facilities in the short term.

Hill said they hoped take a proposal to policymakers after the general election.

He said ATEED was involved because Auckland had an economic problem on its hands.

"We don't think about it as private versus public, we think about what is the problem that New Zealand is trying to solve and Auckland trying to solve?"

Screentime chief executive Philly de Lacey is part of the multi-sector group working with ATEED to come up with a joint plan for private managed isolation to open the border to critical workers.

She said although the company was busy now, missed opportunities due to border closures had cost her tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of local jobs.

"We've missed out on a lot of work too, because of an inability to bring anyone into NZ and a lot of money and that's been endlessly frustrating," she said.

"There has got to be some way we can safely manage private quarantine into NZ so that in any industry if someone was wanting to spend in NZ but that required bringing one or two or three people into NZ, it can happen."

Those in the film industry are concerned Hollywood may stop looking to New Zealand as a destination for shoots if the border does not open to more skilled workers.

Through Screentime, de Lacey is about to apply to bring in two film industry professionals from the US.

"I hope that by now the processes are a bit more under control and maybe the processes have been smoothed out, but I'm just nervous, because I don't want to lose another production because I can't get two people into New Zealand."

RNZ recently revealed the private sector wanted to set up privately run managed isolation hotels for wealthy tourists and skilled workers, and that Auckland University had a proposal to provide managed isolation for international students at its hostels.

The construction sector is also facing major skills shortages, and is part of ATEED's working group.

The Construction Strategy Group estimated there would be more than 50,000 jobs to fill in the five years to 2021.

Executive director Julien Leys said it made sense to have a cross-industry plan for private managed isolation.

"We are seeing a real bottleneck particularly where that expertise is needed on some projects, including some of the shovel ready work. Both public and private sector projects need those people and we're not getting them."

Leys said the sector needed more skilled workers.

"It makes sense to come up with a pragmatic approach such as ATEED is suggesting, where we can find a way to expand the capacity of the managed isolation to allow more workers to come into the country where they are needed."

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