Marlborough parks single economic agency

Councillor Peter Jerram supports deferring a single economic agency for Marlborough.
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Councillor Peter Jerram supports deferring a single economic agency for Marlborough.

A single economic agency for Marlborough has been shelved.

The Marlborough District Council proposed in its draft long term plan that existing "smart and connected" projects along with Destination Marlborough, events promotion and the management of the Marlborough Convention Centre should all come under the management of a new development unit called the Edge.

Sixteen regions in the country are covered by economic development agencies.

Council has increased their economic development project budget by $184,000 to $284,000. 

But councillors moved to defer the plans for the Edge agency, which would have cost an extra $583,000.

It followed mixed reviews to the proposals from business leaders.

During submissions to council's long term plan, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce general manager Hamish Macfarlane urged the council to put the agency off until 2016.

"Should councils and economic development agencies be funding tourism and business promotion, putting on major events or trying to lure business with special treatment and ratepayer's money? It has been a hurried decision," Macfarlane said. "Change needs to take place but that time is too short for a considered decision to be made allowing for the best outcome possible."

Marlborough Research Centre chief executive Gerald Hope said the centre supported the Edge proposal.

"For council to do nothing is not an option," Hope said.

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An alternative for council was to provide the research centre with a broader mandate for regional development, Hope said.

If council gave the centre's food and beverage cluster an extra $65,000 in funding, on top of their $75,000 a year council grant, it could pursue further government funding and investment, Hope said.

Councillors rejected that proposal. 

Council approved $75,000 for the cluster from reserves instead of rates but declined the funding request for an additional $65,000.

Mayor Alistair Sowman said the Edge had polarised opinion.

"Minister Steven Joyce is appealing to mayors to take a leadership role on economic development; that's interesting coming from government which not so long ago introduced policy that was quite the opposite."

The research centre was not an economic development agency but it did have the ability to source government funding, Sowman said.

"I don't want to pull the rug from under the cluster. We helped set them up."

Councillor Peter Jerram said council had a role in economic development. 

Jerram supported the Edge being scrapped and wanted the smart and connected budget reduced.

"The research centre is not an economic development agency no matter how much he would like it to be. It's a research organisation for primary industry."

The centre was asked to provide key performance indicators but that had been forgotten, Jerram said.

The cluster should get only the $75,000 a year initially agreed with a clear indication that they start finding funding for themselves, Jerram said.

"The people that benefit from the cluster should put up or shut up. It sends a clear signal we are a responsible funder."

 - The Marlborough Express

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