Auckland’s economic strategy needs a budget, not just words, says panel chair

Press Release from Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer
The draft Economic Development Strategy, released today, sets out some ambitious economic goals and strives to make Auckland Council “can-do” and “business-friendly” but such aspirations will struggle to be realised as the strategy comes with no budget whatsoever, says Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer – chair of the Auckland Business Advisory Panel and deputy chair of Economic Forum.

“If Auckland Council is really serious about being can-do and business-friendly the strategy needs to call for some budget backing, like the other strategies have with their collective wish-list of $5.5b for pet projects.

“Words alone will not make the unprecedented overhaul needed by this council around improving the likes of its regulatory processes and business services. It will take a massive shift for the bureaucracy to change as well as money to do things differently, and neither are forthcoming in this strategy.

“The draft Economic Development Strategy lists some very ambitious economic goals such as dramatically lifting regional exports, increasing our annual GDP, and growing productivity. Yes it will take a step change, but what the incremental steps actually are remains somewhat unclear. It seems we all know what we want, but we’re not quite sure on how to get there.

“I strongly believe that if this first-term Auckland Council hasn’t delivered some marked improvements on doing business in Auckland, then it won’t have delivered on the cornerstone reason for amalgamation, which was economic.

“The public was promised that one council would help reduce costs and improve economies of scale when it came to procurement, operational expenditure and capital works delivery. Ratepayers were also promised greater streamlining of often time-consuming and complex regulatory processes, so the expectations to deliver are high.”

Mr Brewer says nearly one year, and there are some encouraging signs and rest assured the council’s chief executive and his management team are singularly focused on making genuine improvements. However there is a growing realisation that the council now needs to be bold if it is to deliver on the structural and political promises of creating a can-do and business friendly council.

“Auckland Council’s draft economic development strategy was peer reviewed by Greg Clark who advises international cities on how to lift their performance. Mr Clark believes Auckland’s number one priority should be creating a “business-friendly well run-city, with enabling business and investment climate”.

Mr Clark points to what’s worked well in cities such as New York, Singapore, Zurich, Toronto and Hong Kong with business climate reforms supported by the likes of dedicated business customer phone-lines, contact programmes, a concierge service for major investments and projects, and constant business surveys to identify and get on top of any council blockages.

“These sorts of initiatives cost money to set up, but can pay big dividends in the longer-term. Unfortunately the absence of a budget shows the council is not overly serious about making life any better for business,” says Cameron Brewer.

And another Press Release from Councillor Brewer
‘Pie in the Sky’ social policy targets in the draft 30-year Auckland spatial plan released today represent a deliberate council move into central government business despite calls not to. What’s more, trying to engage the public on Auckland’s long-term future during the Rugby World Cup is ridiculous, says Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer.

“A few months ago we got a lot of public submissions to the ‘Auckland Unleashed’ discussion document urging the council to focus on core local government business and not take on central government roles. Unfortunately those ratepayers haven’t been listened to.”

Some of the council targets include: By 2030, all school leavers will be achieving NCEA level 2; By 2040 all young adults will complete a post-secondary qualification; By 2017 all pre-school children demonstrate at the before school check that they have strong family or whanau attachments and have the foundation for success in school and life; By 2020 increase the number of early childhood education facilities by 100 (10 per year) in southwest and west Auckland (areas of highest need); and by 2040 80% of the population has a cardiovascular assessment (measure of obesity and onset of diabetes) by a primary care provider.

“Every time the council goes out as the education and health police it takes resources and focus away from local issues that really matter to ratepayers such as infrastructure.”

Mr Brewer says he appreciates that part 6 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Act 2010 states that ‘the purpose of the spatial plan is to contribute to Auckland’s social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing through a comprehensive and effective long term (20 – 30 year) strategy for Auckland’s growth and development.’ However he believes the council’s taken the interpretation too far.

“While the spatial plan legislation requires a broad integrated strategic direction for Auckland, it does not demand the council to spell out the likes of specific education and health targets when central government is the primary funder and driver of these policy areas.

“Let’s just say, none of these targets will appear in any political party’s manifesto this election because most in Wellington wouldn’t promise things so unobtainable. It is wrong then to lump those social policy targets on the ratepayers of Auckland. Because the council has no means to deliver them, and Wellington will never sign up to achieving them, the targets are misleading at best.

“It is now clear that the Government is stepping back from this draft Auckland Plan, which interestingly they now refer to as the Auckland Council Plan. The Government remains unconvinced by planners’ drive for a ‘compact city’ model. Ministers have asked for more work to be done to show it’s not going to lead to less affordable land and housing. That work has been less than forthcoming.

“Keeping Auckland affordable is where this council’s focus should be, rather than trying to muscle into the region’s classrooms and hospitals. Ratepayers and the Government want focus. Let’s not forget that was the initial intention of the Auckland amalgamation and spatial plan,” he says.

Cameron Brewer says it’s also concerning that none of the big wish-list projects launched by the Mayor come with any funding plan. Further, he believes the spatial plan’s statutory consultation period through to 25 October is ridiculous timing given Auckland is hosting the Rugby World Cup.

 

1 comment:

  1. Chris, 23. September 2011, 13:55

    As the chair of the Auckland Business Advisory Panel and deputy chair of Economic Forum, Cameron Brewer has the responsibility to raise any such issues or aspects during Council meetings, of the plan he now criticises. To not have done so would mean he is not doing his job. Ironically, in the press release he is criticising himself, because he is part of Council, but not clever enough to even realise this. He’s either blinded by his new found sense of (perceived) power, or was not read his Councillor job description.