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