Cera doubles its communications budget

Cera has budgeted between $1m and $1.5m for communications for the 2015/16 financial year.
Kirk Hargreaves

Cera has budgeted between $1m and $1.5m for communications for the 2015/16 financial year.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) has almost doubled its communication budget and increased its public relations staff by a third in the past two years.

The cost of public information campaigns jumped from $672,000 in the 2013/14 financial year to $1 million in 2014/15 and is estimated to cost between $1m and $1.5m for 2015/16, Cera figures show.

This did not include public relations and communication staff salaries, which amount to about $2m for the 2014/15 financial year and are expected to cost a similar amount in 2015/16.

Cera has 25 staff working in communications this year. In 2013/14, it employed 18.

As of June this year, the authority employed 341 fixed-term staff.

Canterbury Communities' Earthquake Recovery Network (Cancern) spokeswoman Leanne Curtis said Cera could "still do more to understand how and what it is that the community need and want to know".

"There is still a lot of putting information out that doesn't hit the mark."

Some programmes had been successful in assisting the community, she said.

It had provided funding for the In the Know Hub, a community-run series of seminars and information sessions, which provided valuable information to homeowners working through repair and rebuild issues.

Strategy Design and Advertising group managing partner Geoff Cranko said Cera needed to ensure the extra money was spent wisely.

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"The question that needs to be asked is how much of the communications is to-ing and fro-ing between Wellington and Christchurch, and is it outward communication or inward?

"I think if you've got clear leadership and clear direction you can spend the money on outward communication and involving people and engagement."

The Government's backdown on the Victoria Square revamp was an example of the organisation communicating and "actually listening" to the public, Cranko said.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said the major and consistent complaint coming from the community about Cera was its "inability to communicate".

"People have to trawl through their website to find information. To hear that their budget has almost doubled makes it even more puzzling.

"It's a huge amount of public money and most people in Canterbury will wonder what it was for."

A Cera spokesman said communications budget had almost doubled this year because Cera would be winding down next year, bringing a "need to keep the public informed on this major change and what it means for them".

There was "an increasing amount of work happening with anchor projects", he said.

Spending on public information included campaigns about services and supports available to Cantabrians such as the free Residential Advisory Service and campaigns for the public to have their say on important issues.

Any remaining budget after Cera's end in April next year might carry over to other recovery entities, he said.

The public had a "large appetite for information", and this was reflected in public relations and communications staffing.

Communications staff dealt with media queries seven days a week, and communicated through social media, he said.

Staff also kept stakeholders and partners informed, provided content for and operated several websites and produced publications, including the monthly Future Christchurch Update.

 - Stuff

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