The Whanganui Ratepayers Association congratulates new Whanganui & Partner’s CEO, Mr Mark Ward, for his frank and honest report card to the Whanganui District Council (WDC) on Whanganui’s economic health and performance
The Whanganui Chronicle on March 14 quoted from Mr Ward’s report, which acknowledges the challenges in progressing Whanganui’s economy and shortfalls in key areas. The performance deficits in tourism, GDP and unemployment are not new. This has been the norm for the last ten years. The data shows that, out of 32 regional tourist areas nation-wide, Whanganui has the second worst performance for the lowest tourism bed nights – the lowest being Clutha. Areas such as Wairarapa, Kawerau, Kapiti, Horowhenua and Ruapehu consistently outperform Whanganui as a desired place to visit and stay. Whanganui’s GDP is the lowest in NZ per capita; unemployment is at 6.2% while the national average hovers around 4%.
Mr Ward says 42 new businesses started in the past 12 months; this is positive news, however, the report does not detail how many of these new businesses were established through the facilitation of Whanganui & Partners, and how many businesses closed during that time period.
At the previous elections the majority of councillors and the Mayor stated their intentions to advance business, tourism and economic growth. Whanganui & Partners have existed in various forms for approximately ten years, with an annual budget of around $2 million per annum funded by the ratepayers. As Mr Ward pointed out, despite this large investment, Whanganui continues to prevail as one of the country’s poorest performers, both in the economic and tourism sectors.
Former ANZ Chief Economist, Cameron Bagrie, recently visited Whanganui and provided an independent economic analysis. His analysis found that, despite extensive searching, he was unable to find a growth business strategy plan for Whanganui, nor could anyone inform him what the economic growth plan was for the region. If this is the case, it reflects very poorly on Whanganui & Partners and the District Council, indicating a massive failing in growth planning.
One of the issues has been the lack of accountability or KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that align with stated goals and objectives and give measurable results. This is critical in any business. The Ratepayers’ Association was therefore pleased last year when for the first time quantifiable KPIs were introduced for Whanganui & Partners. Within a few months they announced that they were withdrawing KPIs with no explanation for the reason, thus leaving Whanganui & Partners, the board members and employees with no minimum performance levels to be measured against. The resulting scenario has been a repeat of previous years’ performance which is $2 million of ratepayers’ money spent with poor results.
So is it the conclusion that Whanganui is a tourism backwater and not a high priority for domestic and overseas tourists; that this is a district of permanent high unemployment, with low productivity; or could it be that Whanganui does have huge potential for business and tourism growth but lacks a well organised, cohesive plan and accountability from councillors, executives and affiliated departments to progress this forward.
The first objective in tackling a problem is, in fact, recognising that there is a problem. The new CEO of Whanganui & Partners, Mr Ward, has done this and he is to be applauded for acknowledging that first step. It is now up to the Whanganui and Partners executive and staff to help deliver what has been lacking for the past ten years. Rather than throwing more good money into the pool, Whanganui Ratepayers, Association are calling for accountability which will remove the perception of squandering millions of dollars in ratepayers funds on continued long term failures. The Ratepayers’ Association would like to see an urgent, thorough, independent review of Whanganui & Partners. Decisive action and accountability is needed now.