Four councillors to fly to China 'a joke'
Four Invercargill city councillors and two council staff members will travel to China in August, a trip called "a joke" by a ratepayer's representative.
Deputy mayor Rebecca Amundsen, councillors Lesley Soper, Graham Lewis and Alex Crackett, council chief executive Richard King, and communications manager Eirwen Harris Mitchell will be on the trip from August 24-28.
Harris Mitchell will stay on for a month to complete a staff exchange programme, with the Suqian council to host her after one if its staffers had earlier stayed in Invercargill for a month.
Chamber of Commerce president Carla Forbes and Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson are also in the delegation to China.
King said the council would cover its own costs for the trip, as would Venture Southland, but the council would cover the full costs for Forbes, including airfares and accommodation.
The city council was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and viewed the chamber as being vital to the future of business and trade relationships with Suqian, Kng said.
The full cost of the China trip to the city council was not yet known.
The purpose of the visit was to renew and strengthen the relationship between Invercargill and Suqian for the future, with a particular focus on business, trade, and tourism, King said.
The trip was to explore business, trade and tourism opportunities between the two cities.
Casson's role while in Suqian would be to help build tourism ties, and he would take packages with him to promote Invercargill to China.
It is hoped the Chamber of Commerce will in future host a trade delegation from Suqian in Invercargill.
Invercargill Ratepayer Advocacy Group spokesman Nobby Clark says the trip is just another junket, but the councillors say it's good to foster relationships.
Clark said he wondered why four councillors were selected.
"The Southland Chamber of Commerce I could understand ... Venture Southland I could understand ... but that many going? That's just a joke," Clark said.
"I guess you could argue there's potential for tourism but I am yet to see any evidence of that."
Two of the councillors were "brand new" and recently elected, he said.
"What are they going to contribute to make this trip worthwhile?"
"I thought they'd be better to send two from Venture Southland."
King said Shadbolt and the senior councillors were offered the first chance to go on the China trip and they worked their way down to those that hadn't been before.
"We ended up with four councillors going, none have been there before."
The delegation does not include any of the city councillors or staff going on another overseas trip this month, to Invecargill sister city Kumagaya in Japan.
The delegation visiting Kumagaya from August 8-13 consists of Mayor Tim Shadbolt, councillors Darren Ludlow and Lindsay Thomas, senior staffer Cameron McIntosh and interpreter Midori Sasaki.
They would attend events as a "prelude" to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, having been invited after the city council helped Kumgaya secure World Cup matches.
Soper said the China trip tied in with the Southland Regional Development Strategy.
"I think it's important to remember that we're in a global world, and that includes our region," she said.
"We can't believe that Southland lives on being an export region and that part of that is not about building relationships."
Amundsen said there were many good benefits to sister city relationships.
Student exchanges between Invercargill and Kumagaya were one example, she said.
Working with sister cities on a political level would open doors to the business community, she said.
She had not seen the itinerary for the China trip, but believed they would likely visit a large number of factories and businesses and she hoped that they would visit the Inercargill-themed garden being built in Suqian.
In return, Invercargill is building a Suqian-themed garden in Queens Park at a cost of about $590,000.
The Invercargill City Council copped nationwide flak when it sent three staff members to China to buy Christmas lights at ratepayers expense in 2015.