Government should boost region: Christie

John Christie
John Christie
Otago is prepared to generate its own economic growth but the Government can play its part in stimulating the growth at very little extra cost, Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie says.

Asked to comment on the sheer scale of work planned in Christchurch this year, Mr Christie said his comments were aimed at what was good for New Zealand, with a particular focus on Otago and New Zealand.

''New Zealand has to have strong regional economies but at present, large amounts of money are going into two supercities - Auckland and Christchurch.

''Christchurch has become the supercity for the South Island and Auckland is becoming the supercity of New Zealand at the expense of provincial New Zealand. This is evident around the country. We are not facing this in isolation.''

Whether it was a reality or just perception, the Government needed to pay attention in an election year as people in regional New Zealand all had votes, Mr Christie said.

The regions had respect for the roles of Auckland and Christchurch in the overall economy. They were important gateways on which the country depended.

However, regional productivity was important and consideration needed to be given to where New Zealand's largest exporter - Fonterra - sourced its products from, he said.

The chamber would advocate setting up a regional reference group, similar to the small business group which met previous governments, to discuss issues of importance.

Each region had a unique strength and debates over the future of institutions like Invermay, where AgResearch was considering moving jobs to Christchurch, could be held in an appropriate forum.

''We are not after handouts. All we want is the Government making decisions in the best interests of the country.''

Mr Christie worried about an ''unsettling trend'' in which it seemed the Government was moving towards central procurement, shutting out smaller regional suppliers who were not registered on the appropriate website.

''More and more, we are seeing local companies missing out to large multinationals who can offer better pricing but not necessarily better services.''

The chamber was aware of a Dunedin company that had its supply contract cancelled because a larger multinational, which specialised in supplying office products, decided it could also supply hospitality supplies.

During the food procurement debate for district health boards, it emerged a company had been set up specifically to provide bulk purchasing for the health sector - at the expense of smaller local suppliers.

That was being seen in other sectors, Mr Christie said.

''I believe this is the thin edge of the wedge. The Government can grow its spending in the regions and boost opportunities for small businesses at no more cost.''

In the Dunedin economic development plan, there had been discussion about Dunedin City Council procurement, using local companies in preference to outside suppliers, he said.

The Government was a significant purchaser of services and could easily allow Dunedin business to provide services and products to city-based government departments - if there were any left, he said.

Other areas in which the Government could help included immigration, whereby immigrants could be encouraged to spread out to centres other than Auckland. The Government was adept at attracting inward investment to the country and it could look at spreading that among regions, like Otago. As technology overcame geographical barriers, contact centres were obvious examples of businesses which could be established in Dunedin rather than Auckland.

He was ''seriously concerned'' as to how the new building regulations would affect Dunedin building owners.

''There must be a way of alleviating pressure on building owners. We are a city of heritage and old buildings, which are not necessarily the same thing.''

More older buildings would be pulled down in the city to become car parks as owners struggled to justify spending money without an economic growth benefit, he said.

Ways to assist
• Adopt a regional procurement policy
• Encourage immigrants to settle in regional New Zealand
• Spread inward investment into the regions
• Retain or establish government departments in smaller cities


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