Parallel reforms needed

Great Scott

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Our ongoing unaltered local body structures are becoming a serious drag on our region’s economic development and competitive advantage. Sadly, local bodies seem to be stubbornly locked into maintaining the status quo.
Over the last decade or so, the highly competitive private sector economy has separated itself into sharply focused SMEs and regionally structured enterprises. Those private sector enterprises resisting the need for change are unlikely to prosper, going forward.
The private sector-driven transport, meat, dairy, tourism, building and construction and farm service industries, along with sectors such as health and education, are continuously reviewing their regional strategies and structures. These more progressive employers understand the absolute need to target even greater economies of scale or risk an early exit.
A modern private sector company invariably exploits communications and monitoring technologies such as mobile phones, Skype and GPS so that management can deliver the essential efficiency gains over an ever-increasing regional area.
We must simplify and sharply focus the region-wide support, in particular for our star-performing tourism and primary products sectors.
Having a single regional government centre for all of South Canterbury that supports key private sector strategies is an essential first step.
For example, Timaru is primarily a centre for regional support to the farming sector, as well as attracting the lower-spending domestic holiday makers.
The Mackenzie basin, especially Aoraki- Mt Cook, Tekapo and Twizel, are focused on growing high-spending international tourists while depending on service delivery and major capital development support from Timaru.
It has greatly saddened me to see how some local body politicians from our smaller areas have had to resort to whinging and grovelling to access special government funding and assistance for their most basic infrastructure requirements.
Continuing with three small local authorities, with their quite separate strategies, duplicating infrastructure and competing with each other, will eventually devalue all our assets.
Merging Waimate, Mackenzie and Timaru local bodies must happen now, before it is too late, and we are again left in the slipstream of the departing central government money train.
If we in South Canterbury want to survive and prosper, then both public and private sector reforms have to move forward in parallel.
Our future sustainability is heavily dependent on our region’s collective ability to offer progressive public and private sector propositions that are more attractive than are being offered by Christchurch or Dunedin.
It is highly unlikely that Ashburton, Timaru and Oamaru can all grow and prosper into sustainable communities in this progressive and rapidly changing economic environment.
The Ashburton and Waitaki districts are strategically well advanced while South Canterbury continues to meander on, believing that our future is secure maintaining the status quo.
Do we really believe this?