Heartland initiative to help rural communities

13 December 2000

Rural people will get improved access to government services through the "Heartland Services Initiative".

Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey and Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton said today the Heartland initiative aimed to improve face to face’ contact with government agencies for people in rural areas.

The initiative will improve government service delivery through government staff synchronising their visits to remote towns once or twice a month as part of an "outreach" service, and through the establishment of or participation in service centres in some smaller provincial towns.

Mr Maharey and Mr Sutton said the initiative would be progressively rolled-out as collaborative arrangements between agencies are made.

"It is an evolutionary approach, but one that as it takes place will support isolated communities and voluntary agencies in rural areas.

"Social services most sought by rural communities include benefits and pensions, employment, childcare and protection, rental housing, tax and family assistance, Maori land issues and accident compensation.

"Government agencies such as ACC, the Maori Land Court, Housing NZ, IRD, the Department of Work and Income and others are to work together so they time their business in a small rural town on the same day of the month.

"Currently, direct contact with the deliverers of these services is often only available in larger centres. The purpose of the initiative is to bring the services directly to the more remote rural towns.

"This will be of real benefit to rural people who otherwise face great inconvenience or cost as they deal with the different agencies from a distance."

Remote towns being considered for an "outreach" service to improve direct access to government service include Maungaturoto, Ohakune, Katikati, Tokomaru Bay, Cromwell, Ranfurly, Hokitika and Winton.

Service centres will provide a central place for the delivery of a range of related Government and community services.

A service centre could be located in an existing government building, or some other suitable location. Community and local authority support, the availability of suitable premises, the capacity and need for government departments to participate and funding would generally be required.

"The initiative has attracted community interest and support in areas where its potential introduction has been raised, such as Dannevirke, Northland, Turangi and South Taranaki. Joint government and community working groups are already developing proposals which it is hoped will come to fruition over the coming months.

"The Heartland Services is a Government-supported initiative to help bring the heart back into our rural communities," the Ministers said.

Contact: Michael Gibbs, [Maharey], (04) 471 9154 or (025) 270 9115, Cathie Bell, [Sutton], (04) 4719855 or (025) 998 467

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