Reallocation could enable funding for digital office

Dunedin city councillors have backed a proposal that could yet result in continued funding for the Dunedin Digital Office and the ''Sexy Summer Jobs'' business internship programme.

Dunedin City Council economic development unit manager Des Adamson asked councillors to use surpluses in other EDU budgets, together worth $123,200, to pay for the move at yesterday's 2014-15 budget deliberations.

He said the two programmes were part of a wider push to promote sustainable economic growth, with wider social benefits, in Dunedin.

The city needed a competitive and productive economy that provided more, and higher-paying, jobs, in line with its economic development strategy. The two programmes were a key part of that but there was ''no magic bullet'' to encouraging economic development.

''These are some of the building blocks that build the bigger picture,'' he said.

''It's a long-term approach.''

Mr Adamson had asked for surpluses from the EDU's Business Incubation ($50,000), Student Entrepreneurship ($25,700) and Other Consultancy ($47,500) budgets to be diverted to the EDU's projects' budget.

From there, they would be used to pay for the digital office and Business Internship Programme, both of which would report to the Grow Dunedin Partnership's steering group, which governed the city's economic development strategy.

However, following debate by councillors, it was agreed the surplus funds would instead be diverted to the strategy's contestable funding pool, where it would be available for use by any projects delivering on the strategy.

That included the Dunedin Digital Office and Business Internship Programme, and Mr Adamson said he would be happy to accept that change.

The move came after criticism from Cr Lee Vandervis, who questioned the value of previous spending on some economic development initiatives.

He said ''hundreds of thousands'' of dollars had been spent in the area since 2004, without tangible results, and questioned the latest reallocation of funds.

''I cannot see any real evidence justifying most of the spending that's gone into these things.''

Mr Adamson said he believed Dunedin was a ''yes city'' and needed to be positive, but acknowledged all projects had their ups and downs.

''I see value on the evidence I have to date ... that these are things we should continue on with, that they will help ... start moving things forward.''

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie agreed, telling the meeting the city's economic development strategy, to which programmes like the Digital Office contributed, was the only example of its kind of city-wide co-operation in the country.

''I think that's a tremendous thing ... but I think we have to give it a little bit of time.

''It's not fair to be critical of past performance when we haven't had that model.''

The pair's views were supported by Mayor Dave Cull, who said the funding reallocation showed the council's previous approach to economic development was being refined.

It also showed the council was prepared to put ''our efforts where our mouths are'', he said.

Cr John Bezett believed the initiatives that stood to benefit offered ''some real possibilities of growth in this city''.

Cr Richard Thomson said investment in economic development was a bit like spending on the warehouse heritage precinct, with a smaller contribution allowing much more activity to happen. It also sent an important message that the council understood some high-tech businesses could relocate to any city, and the council was prepared to support them, he said.

However, while supporting the funding reallocation, he questioned the ''broad brush'' approach that resulted in the Digital Office paying for laptops in some schools.

He suggested a more focused approach could benefit businesses, but Cr Mike Lord disagreed, saying ''the next Steve Jobs'' could be found in one of those schools.

''These sorts of things might make the difference ... I don't think it is just [money] going into a hole. I think it's a vital spend.''

''I wish it was more,'' he said.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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