Wellington slides as cuts begin to bite
MARTY SHARPE AND SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
The dire economic performance of central and lower North Island councils sees them dominate the lowest 10 places in a survey comparing 66 local authorities.
The bottom nine spots in Berl's Regional Rankings 2011 are taken by councils in the central and lower North Island. Only earthquake hit-Christchurch keeps Horowhenua from making it a clean sweep.
Wellington fell 20 spots to 31st place, with the report saying the city was hit by "the cleanout of the public service, where there [were] close to 800 job losses in Defence alone".
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the fall in rankings highlighted the importance of diversification in the city and of encouraging different types of businesses to set up shop.
"This just justifies investing time and energy in that area. We already know that employment figures are down due to public-sector cuts, which makes the job of growing our economy urgent and important."
The survey ranks New Zealand's 66 councils on economic activity, including population, employment, GDP, business units, and the Relative Openness Index, which measures each region's economy toward export sectors.
Buller jumped four places to top the rankings. Queenstown-Lakes remains in second place, followed by Waimakariri (up one place) and Selwyn (down three places), then the bolter, Waikato (up 37 places).
The bottom of the table is dominated by rural central North Island councils with small and declining populations.
At the very bottom is Ruapehu, a position it also held in 2010. Wairoa dropped 39 places to 62, followed by Stratford at 63 (down one), Tararua at 64 (down five) and Rangitikei at 65 (down 14).
But mayors of some of the lowest-ranked councils are defending their performance.
Wairoa Mayor Les Probert said the figures did not give a true picture. His council had been debt-free for a long time and the reason for its ranking could be a mixture of industrial issues in the last year and an exodus of young people to Australia.
"We are not alone. We are losing population, which a lot of small rural areas are doing."
Tararua Mayor Roly Ellis said his council might have ranked so low because of the region's small size. "We have had 20 new businesses start up in the region in the last year. Our population has gone up very slightly. We are certainly not going backwards."
Small councils were more vulnerable to economic ups and downs, Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke said.
"We have actually done quite well but over the last 12 months we have taken a dip."
There had been several new developments in his region in the past year, he said.
The report said Buller, despite a trying couple of years with the Pike River disaster, was the best-performing local authority last year, with the highest employment and business unit growth. It also had the best employment and GDP growth over the past five years.
Queenstown Lakes has been in the top five places for the past five years, with solid population growth ensuring healthy business unit growth. Waimakariri topped the GDP ranking and Selwyn had the highest population growth.
Waikato was the biggest improver with GDP growth of 9 per cent and employment growth of 6.8 per cent, thanks in large part to a 65 per cent increase in jobs in electricity supply and a 9.5 per cent increase in manufacturing.
Ruapehu has the country's poorest-performing economy for the second year running.
The report looks at the rate of change, not the actual amount of activity in each district, and is only a "high-level analysis showing how local authorities, regions and cities compare relative to each other".
- The Dominion Post
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