Council tells its economic agency to provide more bang for its bucks

Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency chief executive Chris Whelan says it is appropriate for people to have ...
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Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency chief executive Chris Whelan says it is appropriate for people to have high expectations of the agency.

Wellington City Council is calling on its economic agency to ramp up its efforts and give ratepayers more bang for their buck.

The Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (Wreda), formed in 2014, receives more than $15 million from city and regional ratepayers, and was asked by city councillors on Thursday to spell out exactly what it is doing with that money.

In particular, it was told it needed to increase the amount it received from outside sources, such as private businesses.

City councillor Simon Woolf said it was time to expect more of Wreda.
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

City councillor Simon Woolf said it was time to expect more of Wreda.

"The target should be that ... every $1 contributed by the current funding councils [should be] matched by $1 from other sources in respect of the visitor economy and economic development."

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Wreda took over major events promotion from Wellington City Council, as well as subsuming what was Positively Wellington Tourism, Grow Wellington, Positively Wellington Venues and Creative HQ.

It is owned by the city and regional councils, which together contribute $15.3m of its $24m funding. The rest comes from central government and the private sector.

Simon Woolf, who chairs the city council's council-controlled organisations (CCO) committee, said Wreda had been given a bit of leeway in the past two years, but more was now expected from it.

It could expect to come under the same "pressure" to perform better as other CCOs had in the past, he said.

"For example, Zealandia struggled but now, with better governance, systems and processes in place, it is doing well."

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Committee member David Lee said he was not sure ratepayers were seeing the full impact of Wreda's funding.

"We want to look at the delivery of outcomes and see more money put into projects, rather than management."

Simon Marsh said there needed to be more measuring of outcomes. "We want it to be a bit more creative in its thinking and not to get bogged down in the administration of Wreda.

"There is no doubt some fine tuning was needed but we will work on the relationship to make certain we get the most from it."

The committee finalised a hard-hitting letter of expectation for Wreda, demanding a clear focus on what it was actually doing.

It includes asking for evidence of commitment to outcomes of the regional strategy, setting clear targets, defining what success looks like, being ambitious and taking a greater leadership role in initiating projects, and taking the lead on events such as the Wellington Sevens.

The letter states that Wreda receives substantial funding from the shareholding councils, and they expected it to grow the funding from other sources.

Wreda chief executive Chris Whelan took up his role in September last year, and in April a new senior leadership team was appointed as part of the amalgamation process.

There was understood to be some unhappiness within the city council about how long it was taking the agency to get things done.

Whelan said he was not concerned, because he had received no negative feedback from any council.

Wreda had returned about $5 for every dollar invested, he said. "No matter how well we do, like any business, we want to lift the bar and ask how we can do better."

He was confident it could achieve any goals set by the council. "People always have high expectations of Wreda, and that is highly appropriate."

In the last financial year, Wreda had achieved significant wins for Wellington's economy, at the same time as conducting a major amalgamation process, he said.

 - Stuff

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