LAST Monday was a particularly enjoyable and engaging day during which I travelled the length of the Rangitikei electorate - this time as part of the Provincial Priorities team.
The group is chaired by Barbara Kuriger, MP for Taranaki-King Country, and includes Chester Borrows from Whanganui and Stuart Smith, who is the MP for Kaikoura.
The Provincial Priorities initiative was launched to grow jobs and prosperity in rural New Zealand by identifying the challenges faced in the regions and highlighting them to Government.
It was initially proposed that the primary focus of the group would be towns located in excess of 100km from the nearest airport, however there are a number of towns in our electorate that can be defined as rural and remote, despite being within the 100km zone.
Our tour of the central North Island began with a meeting in Taumarunui at 10.30am, followed by Raetihi at 1pm, Mangaweka at 4pm and we finished up with a few hours at the Memorial Hall in Shannon from 7pm.
There were a few issues that were consistent wherever we went. These included people's concern about access to healthcare and, in particular, access to experienced medical specialists. The lack of training opportunities for young people in small towns was also a concern - the flow-on effect of which is a decline in population numbers as young people head to the city or larger provincial regions in search of work or training.
The challenge, therefore, is to support new jobs and also to provide incentives to encourage our young people who leave to undertake further professional development or tertiary education, and then to come back home again. Of course skilled workers often inject new ideas into businesses which, in turn, result in growth and greater employment opportunities.
Feedback also indicated there was considerable merit in offering relevant trade apprenticeships as there was some talk about the difficulty in getting staff.
It is clear that in remote and rural New Zealand roading is a hot topic. A significant network of roads and a limited number of ratepayers means a significant portion of the rates collected by the various councils we traversed are eaten up by road repairs and general maintenance.
Fast broadband and access to the internet were also raised, though it is reassuring to note that there was general consensus that the situation is very much improved from where we were five years ago. Clearly the government's ultra-fast broadband initiative and significant investment in ensuring maximum connectivity nationwide is paying dividends.
As a group, we certainly appreciate the importance and the significance of access to modern technology to ensure businesses - and families, too can operate in the modern world, no matter where they live.
Rangitikei is a large and diverse electorate and there are certainly issues that must be considered by those in Wellington. Having said that though, I wouldn't want to live, work and play anywhere else.
We operate in a great part of the world - let's be proud of it, look after it and encourage future generations to do the same.