Sister-city trip costs come under fire

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
A Dunedin City Council delegation's $18,000 trip to Otaru and Edinburgh has turned into a political football amid barbs about ''junkets'' and questions over the cost.

The delegation, lead by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, is due to leave today for a week of activities in Edinburgh, followed by a week in Otaru, Japan, from August 6 to 12.

Mr Cull would be accompanied to Scotland by Cr Neville Peat and council arts community adviser Cara Paterson, before Cr Andrew Noone replaced Cr Peat for the Japanese leg of the trip.

Activities would include marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of the sister cities relationship between Dunedin and Edinburgh, Mr Cull said in a statement.

There would also be renewed effort to ''breathe new life'' into the relationship, including within the arts sector during the Edinburgh Festival, he said.

The Otaru stop also aimed to reaffirm the two cities' friendship ahead of a visit by an Otaru delegation to Dunedin next year, when the 35th anniversary of the relationship between the cities would be marked, he said.

However, the $18,000 cost, to be covered by the council, prompted Cr Lee Vandervis to see red at yesterday's economic development committee meeting.

He grilled council corporate services group manager Sandy Graham over the trip, ask-ing her to identify any examples of economic development arising from trips to the Japanese ''resort'' of Otaru.

''We have had numerous visits. What evidence has there been of any economic development coming from it?'' Cr Vandervis asked.

''I can't answer that,'' Ms Graham responded.

That did not deter Cr Vandervis, who said the trips represented ''a culture of entitlement'' within the council ''which I don't think is appropriate''.

Other councillors leapt to the defence of the relationships, including Cr Richard Thomson, who said the focus of sister city relationships was ''much wider'' than just economic development.

Cr Vandervis had a ''habit of setting up straw men that he can then knock down'', which was becoming ''tiresome'', Cr Thomson said.

Deputy mayor Chris Staynes also defended the trips, saying they involved ''quite hard work'' and were ''not junkets''.

The benefits were already being enjoyed by the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic, with more research collaborations pending, he said.

Cr Andrew Whiley said he had first-hand experience of economic benefits flowing from the agreements, in the form of golfers who came to Dunedin from Otaru and Edinburgh to see their sister city.

Cr Kate Wilson said the trips were about ''opening doors, and keeping doors open'', which benefited businesses, but improved cultural links would also be of ''huge benefit'' to the city.

How about some real answers?

Its seems Cr Vandervervis is somewhat unpopular down at the DCC chambers but lets look at the latest incident. He asks what economic benefit has come from visits to Otaru and Edinburgh and gets no answer. Cr Whiley says he has seen the economic benefits with all the golfers who come to Dunedin after these visits. Unfortunately Cr Whiley offers no numbers or any sort of evidence to back up his comments in support of Mayor Cull's junket. Deputy Mayor Stayne says the University and Polytechnic had reaped the benefits of these Mayoral visits but he offered no numbers or evidence either. Mayor Cull's recent admission that economic development is not part of his mandate would ring true when the University and Polytechnic are run by Central Government. On that basis one wonders why the Deputy Mayor wants to take credit for things his Council has no input into. It is very typical of this Council to get hot under the collar when attacked by Cr Vanderveris. Wouldn't the best way of keeping him quiet be to give him some real answers and data? Shouting louder but saying nothing seems to be the preferred method of debate at the DCC.

No mandate for economic development

Dave Cull says he and his Council have no mandate to promote economic development in Dunedin. He says that is the job of central government. So tell us Dave, why are you off on this expensive junket when your City is the second most indebted per ratepayer liability in NZ behind Auckland? We already have a $650 million consolidated debt and Council is busy selling assets to generate some cash. I guess it must be the latest survey telling you just how much the people of Dunedin support you. Enjoy it whilst it lasts Mr Cull, plenty of Dunedin's residents can see your trip for what it is. Yet another pile of ratepayer money thrown down the drain bringing no return other than more PR spin and feeble a justification for taking this ratepayer-funded holiday.

Where's the pool of cash?

So the DCC has a pool of cash to go abroad but doesn't have cash for the physio pool at home?

So where are the benefits?

Quantify the benefits relating to the reasearch collaborations that were not allready in place and how they were "created" by such a trip.

Cr Whiley, which course and how many golfers have played in Dunedin from these trips? Cr Wilson, What doors are opening and being kept open? All we see in the central city is businesses closing? Until Dunedin becomes progessive and dynamic these trips are just glorified holidays.



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