Posts tagged ‘John Shewan’


Bridging the Rimutaka divide: Wellington needs Wairarapa

26.04.2013

In an interview today, the subject of regional reform and amalgamation came up. There’s quite a good site already seeking feedback on the process, and I’ve taken part in a 2012 forum on the subject as well.
   In 2010, the mood in Wellington, based on those I met in the campaign, seemed to be set against amalgamation. There were some suspicions, and I have to say I was among them: I could not understand how a Herald headline could proclaim it was going ahead when the article beneath simply stated that the Royal Commission had recommended the “super-city” as one of its options.
   But, as John Shewan told me before his retirement from Price Waterhouse Coopers, Auckland has found some real savings through amalgamation, wearing an apolitical accountant’s hat in his analysis.
   In the 2012 forum, the opposition to merger seemed weaker. There were many who were concerned at the loss of representation—we had been taught that flat management structures are more efficient, and this seemed to go against that instinct. However, some felt that amalgamation made sense—but of those, the Wairarapa seemed to be another world, and that maybe we should let them do their own thing.
   I have been wondering about the opposition to the Wairarapa being part of a larger Wellington. I know people there, and they don’t think much of grabbing train ride south to head into town. It’s less of an obstacle to come here than to, say, Napier, which is where some of the people at the 2012 forum felt it had a closer kinship to. In the times I’ve been north of the Rimutaka divide and talked to locals, I can’t say they feel that.
   The concern among those in Wellington might be driven by geography. That’s not an easy road to drive. I’ve seen Shaker Run. And does that mentally stop us from embracing the Wairarapa as readily as we should? Sure, we love those Martinborough wines, but isn’t it such a trek?
   Yet when you look on a map, Lake Ferry, which you can only get to via the Wairarapa, is far closer to us than anywhere else. Good luck telling a foreign visitor—or even an investor—that that’s not part of our region. And when I think of Martinborough and Wellington, I can’t help but draw a parallel with Napa and Sonoma, and San Francisco. It just seems a natural fit when it comes to marketing a region, and that if we’re saying that Wellington loves diversity, then is it so hard to accept a rural component right next door to us?
   But here’s why my thinking is really leaning toward inclusiveness: New Zealand’s industry is still largely primary products-based. People like me can talk all we like about growing our technological and creative sectors, and that is still something to aim for. We still need to do it. However, it won’t happen overnight. Right now, and even for the next generation, we’d be mugs to discount the Wairarapa’s rural base because that’s an important part of our economy. We also need to consider the land out there, too, and help make use of it effectively at a macroeconomic level. If people want reform, and if that includes merging councils, then I think we’d be poorer without the Wairarapa as part of Wellington.
   Our GDP, as it is, isn’t great: in fact, The Dominion Post revealed earlier this week that Wellington city’s GDP is flat. I did predict this in 2010 and said that we needed to nurture businesses properly.
   Is it, then, a change of mindset that we need? We can already see how the Bay Area in California is marketed: there are bridges to take those from the City northward to Napa and Sonoma. We have a less than ideal road and a rail link, both of which are being improved. With more Wellingtonians focusing on the work–life balance and enjoying everything from Toast to the air shows, those old “them and us” attitudes seem to be waning anyway. Maybe it’ll just take a different type of marketing to feel closer to our Wairarapa cousins?
   At the end of the day, it should be up to the people to decide. However, if we are to do so, then we must have all the facts. Right now, I’m not alone with these thoughts: this website outlines even more reasons the Wairarapa should stay with Wellington. And the Palmer report noted last year, ‘We believe Wairarapa to be an important part of the Wellington region and that its future prosperity would be adversely affected were it cut off from the region.’ I’d be happy to host a discussion—either here, on my Facebook group where your thoughts are welcome in refining my mayoral campaign manifesto on this website, or, if schedules allow, offline.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Is super-city opposition super-softening?

31.05.2012

Earlier this month, I attended a session on the potential of a Wellington super-city, and was interested to note that the mood, that was so dead set against one in 2010, had begun to shift. In fact, in the previous month, the outgoing chairman of Price Waterhouse Coopers (I can’t bring myself to write that as a single month), John Shewan, presented a session where he outlined the pros and cons. Super-city is in the Zeitgeist for Wellington now, and where the moves have come from, I don’t know.
   The concerns in Wellington seem to surround the issue of representation, as the popular image of super-city seems to be a tall managerial structure where a super-mayor (God help us if that term is used) sits over earlier structures. I don’t think the Auckland experience has borne this out, but there are definitely concerns over the unfunded community boards, something that Wellington might learn from.
   Judging by the responses from the session, those for a super-city seem to be around the 40 per cent mark, while those sceptical of one hover around 60—and this is a totally unscientific count. But the fact that proponents have moved from under 5 per cent to around 40 in the middle of Mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s first term is probably heartening for the super-camp, who might wish to extrapolate it heading further north come 2013.
   Our table seemed to be more pro- than anti-, and we were the last to report in. I was asked to speak on the table’s behalf and I noted to Garry Poole, CEO of the Wellington City Council, that if there was one thing worse than coming third, it was coming last. However, the efficiency argument held some sway among our participants, and that Auckland itself, according to John’s figures, was forecast to make some real savings in administration. The present system, it might be argued, is flawed anyway (what system isn’t?) so should we really wait till Wellington is in crisis mode before we consider change?
   I did add one note about the efficiency argument, perhaps lost on the audience. I pointed out that Slater Walker, the corporate raiders in Britain of the 1960s, got away with a lot because of the same argument—that its actions were necessary for the efficiency of British industry. As it turned out, it led to the demise of British industry (if I were to generalize). But, as long as we were talking about true efficiencies forced into being through legislation—for getting two councils on to the same software system is hard enough without a concerted effort—then that might be a good thing for ratepayers.
   The popular image of the super-structure might not be that relevant, and this is where technology could serve us for a change. Representation is the biggest concern of those who are against the super-city, so why not adopt technological measures, such as capturing ideas and intel electronically from around the Wellington region, so they can be used by the council? (As in 2010, I maintain that 130,000 voters are far smarter collectively than a single council.) Flatten the structure so mayor and council can hear the concerns of citizens—and keep it flattened, just as we were taught at business school. If Auckland’s biggest mistake was in community board funding, is it possible to investigate how they can remain funded properly here?
   There are way too many issues to discuss in a single blog post, but I’m just flagging some for discussion. What are your feelings out there? Is the mood shifting? Can I stop prefixing words with super-?

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Posted in business, leadership, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »