Ratepayers foot $13,725 bill for council trip

The Invercargill City Council's trip to China in September cost nearly $14,000, figures obtained by The Southland Times through the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show.

The council was part of a Southland delegation to China to drive trade and business between the Far East and the province.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and council chief executive Richard King spent $13,725.70 on the trip to the Chinese city of Suqian. The expenses included $8771.96 for flights - $5375.28 for Mr Shadbolt's and $3396.68 for Mr King's.

Other costs included $2746.66 for accommodation and $1000 in gifts for their Chinese counterparts.

Visas, transport and meals also contributed to the final costs.

Mr King said the mayor had to return to Invercargill because of prior commitments.

The trip to China was money well spent because it was necessary to begin forging political and trade relationships with Asia, he said. Invercargill and Southland could not afford to miss out on the potential economic benefits from China and Asia.

Establishing a political relationship needed to come before business and it was important for the mayor and the council to lead the way, he said.

At the time of the council's visit to Suqian, Mr Shadbolt said the delegation wanted to establish thriving trade between the two cities so it helped create jobs for the region.

The mayor said it would be easy to stay at home to save several thousand dollars but the council had risked the criticism to do what it thought was right.

Joining the council on the trip were Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds and Pat Mao from the SIT international team, Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson, forestry representatives Dean Johnston, from Invercargill City Forests Ltd, and Dan Minehan, who has private forestry interests, and Chamber of Commerce president Dave Rohan and chief executive Richard Hay.

As government-funded organisations, costings from SIT, Venture Southland and Invercargill City Forest Ltd were also obtained.

Figures from SIT showed Ms Simmonds and Mr Mao spent $1534.25 as part of the delegation.

SIT's trip to China with the council was done in conjunction with an SIT marketing trip, and the institution released figures only for the period spent with the council.

The trip to China cost Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson $4667.60.

He said it was a small price to pay for future benefits with Asia and the South Pacific. It was vital Invercargill and Southland started building relationships with China.

Food, technology, forestry, dairy and education were commodities the region offered.

Mr Johnston's costs were funded by Invercargill City Forests and totalled $6052.95.

Mr Minehan funded all his costs through his company, and declined to release details.

The city council hopes to welcome delegates from Suqian to Invercargill in March.

The Southland Times