Editorial: Clearing things up a bit

Last updated 05:00 13/03/2014

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OPINION: Activity and achievement. As we keep saying, they're not the same thing.

It comes as welcome news - albeit an overdue correction - that the councils funding Venture Southland with ratepayer money are seeking to exert more direction over the work it does.

They're declaring a focus on performance indicators that measure, or should measure, successes and failure.

At the start of a workshop between the two major funders, the Invercargill City and Southland District councils this week, district council chief executive David Adamson said the way Venture operated had "evolved" and the renegotiation of the agreement setting out expectations and obligations would reflect this.

Those comments sure made it sound like the rules would be changed merely to catch up with the operational reality that Venture had been permitted to swan off and go its own way.

Happily the councils appear to be taking a steelier approach, signalling changes in the areas of performance measures, defined objectives and precise targets.

All of which raises the question whether such matters were sufficiently precise to begin with.

Given that the city contributes $1.6 million and the district council nearly $1.8 million, it's perhaps not as surprising as it initially appeared that the Gore District Council was absent from the process and prepared to puppydog behind the other councils. It's stumping up with a strikingly modest $54,000.

A key question now becomes what these shiny new key performance indicators for Venture will be. For this we are told we'll have to wait until the draft deal is tabled at April council meetings, after which public submissions will be sought.

Now that's going to be a feisty process. Here is real chance for Venture's critics - and supporters, if they're game - to have potentially consequential input.

One area Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt has signalled as one of his council's main concerns is the scale of Venture's investments in tourism.

The concern is unlikely to be that the scale is insufficient. Rather, presumably, that there should be more focus on assisting other business development.

Mercifully, the truly dumb proposal that the three councils proposed had earlier entertained that Venture be re-cast as a council-controlled organisation (CCO), was euthanised last year.

That would have given Venture more autonomy, of an unwelcome sort, like the capacity to borrow money to invest in commercial operations, and to conduct its activities further out of the public arena.

Venture has already had to tidy up its act in another significant way. It has been operating a so-called charitable trust that is unworthy of the name. The Venture Southland Charitable Trust set up in May 2003, to scant conspicuous public benefit, has been spuriously using that name long after it lost its charitable status four years ago.

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Yes, it's a good thing to be hearing this recent talk from our councillors about clarity. You know what they say - when politicians talk about something for long enough there's always a chance they might start thinking about it.

- The Southland Times

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