Funding commerce chambers criticised

Ann Lockhart.
Ann Lockhart.
The Taxpayers Union says it ''beggars belief'' the Queenstown Lakes District Council provided $243,325 in funding to the Queenstown and Wanaka Chambers of Commerce in the 2016-17 financial year.

In its national Ratepayers Report released this week, the group said the council's spend on the two chambers in the year to June last year was 123 times the median spend of $1979 and 12 times the average spend of $20,406 by councils nationwide.

Researcher Garrick Wright-McNaughton said the district's ratepayers would ''undoubtedly be disappointed'' the equivalent of almost 100 rates bills was spent on the business groups.

Although chambers of commerce were originally set up to lobby local authorities, it had become routine for councils to spend large sums on them.

Council strategy and development manager Michelle Morss confirmed the figure, but said most of the funds were used by the chambers to work on economic development projects on its behalf because it did not have the staff to do the work itself.

Such payments had now reduced because it appointed an economic development manager, Peter Harris, 12 months ago.

The Queenstown chamber received $128,324 and the Wanaka chamber $115,000, Ms Morss said.

The latter was a one-off payment to Ignite Wanaka to help fund initiatives supporting the Gigatown Wanaka proposal, such as the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband in the Wanaka CBD.

Funding to the Queenstown chamber consisted of $57,500 for Study Queenstown - an alliance of education providers promoting the resort to domestic and international students - $57,500 for ''economic initiatives'' approved in the annual plan, and an annual $11,500 grant for sister city activity.

The remaining $1824.75 was spent on business lunch events and chamber membership.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann Lockhart said the figures highlighted by the Taxpayers Union were ''a bit misleading'' because the chamber had only acted as a conduit for the Study Queenstown funding.

The $57,500 for ''economic initiatives'' was spent on developing a labour force strategy for the district on behalf of the council.

That project was aimed at addressing one of the district's biggest challenges, which was attracting and retaining staff.

''The main point here is that other councils probably do pay similar or more, but pay it into an economic development entity of some sort.''

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