Editorial: The people have peeped

One of our criticisms of Vibrant Invercargill was that it seemed to have no defenders. Fair's fair. We have to take that back.

We detected scarcely a peep of public protest when the Invercargill City Council, citing businesses' dissatisfaction, last year signalled its intention to strip Vibrant of its $80,000 funding to promote the inner-city.

The council proposed that the money would be more usefully put to work by someone else, like Venture Southland, perhaps working with the council itself.

But feedback to the council's draft annual plan includes at least 80 submissions on this issue and they are emphatically pro-Vibrant.

For comparison, this is on par with the number of calls for the town to set up emergency accommodation following the closure of the Salvation Army men's hostel. And not a lot below the level of opposition to a special south city rate for a South Alive co-ordinator.

It would be churlish to make too much of the fact that a great many of the yay-for-Vibrant submissions were templated, showing this to have been an organised campaign.

Vibrant is meant to be able to organise stuff. For it to have failed to do so in the cause of its own survival would have been curiously indolent indeed.

Now it's Vibrant's turn to suggest that silence speaks volumes. Because where were those voices of discontent during the submission process?

The council's proposal to dump Vibrant came after a survey which concluded businesses weren't best pleased with its performance.

In response, Vibrant commissioned a consultant, Hughan Ross, who found that since the council conducted that survey itself this might have influenced people's responses.

So, not for the first time, an independent consultant finds that independence is very important in consultation.

More specifically, Hughan Ross also found some of the council's interpretations of the gathered information were loose, or incorrect.

Now the council says that, hey, the survey was just part of its wider consultational endeavours. Cr Graham Sycamore was last month still emphatic that most people out there believed things needed to be done differently.

Here's the deal. The council's own relationship with Vibrant has long been toxic, but it's not conjuring up discontent where none exists. The inner-city has by no means been promoted with conspicuous success, or invention.

In Vibrant's case two thirds of that $80,000 budget drawn from a special rate on commercial property owners in the inner-city goes to wages and salaries, 18 per cent for operational costs and 10 per cent for special projects.

Vibrant points out that with more money it could achieve more. Doubtless true. Same goes for a great many outfits. The real question is whether another outfit could deliver proportionately more bang for the buck.

It's still a really, really good question. We remain unimpressed with the achievements to date. But there's no getting around it that, in the consultation process, Vibrant has rallied a strong call on its behalf.

The Southland Times