Opinion: Council needs to cut costs, not ambition for city

Opinion: Council needs to cut costs, not ambition for city

Business Canterbury

Leeann Watson is Chief Executive of Business Canterbury

The Christchurch City Council plays an important role as an enabler of economic activity and growth in our city and region. With a ‘golden decade’ ahead of us, we strongly believe that it must take a more deliberate and ambitious approach than the one outlined in the Christchurch City Council Draft Long Term Plan 2024-34.

Of particular concern is the ‘rates hump’ outlined in the Plan and the need for the Council to maintain affordability while managing cost pressures. It is the responsibility of the Council to control costs and make operating improvements to reduce them without compromising service quality – something that businesses are having to do given the current economic environment.

There are few businesses that would be comfortable, nor could get away with raising prices by 14% right now. They would find that customers, who are also facing those pressures, would simply choose to go elsewhere or no longer be customers. The Council, however, is in a position where customers do not have a choice, and with that comes a responsibility to ensure that complacency does not set in around cost control.

Cutting costs is not the same as cutting services and getting ‘back to the basics’ has been a line used in my view to minimise the Council’s own shortcomings in running a lean and efficient organisation. The focus seems to be on external rather than internal ‘basics’, without much success or obvious changes as a result.

Like businesses, the focus for the Council should be on improving internal efficiencies, removing bureaucracy, and ensuring that staffing levels and capability are aligned with efficiently delivering core services and driving Christchurch forward into the 2030s – not concentrating the conversation on cutting services. There needs to be a greater clarity and transparency on the outcomes we are getting for the money they are spending.

There is also concern from the business community that the Council is seen as a handbrake and installer of red tape, with only 11% in a recent Business Canterbury survey of more than 400 businesses telling us that the Council supports and enables businesses well. For years, we – on behalf of the Canterbury business community – have advocated for the Council to adopt an ‘enabler’ rather than an ‘enforcer’ approach.

If we want to meet our goals as a city, to be the best place to live, work, play and invest, businesses need to have confidence and certainty that local government is transparent in its decision-making processes, consistent in its policies, and responsive and supportive of their needs.

Businesses may not always like the decisions that Councils make, but they do need to understand them, and they need to be consistent rather than changing at a whim which creates uncertainty and a lack of trust leading to a loss of future investment and commitment to this city.

Businesses are ready to play their part in the growth of our city. They are committed to doing business here and they are looking to the future and navigating how to sustainably grow, and what investments they need to make to get there – whether it be investment in people, plant, or technology to increase their productivity, reduce their emissions and contribute to the local economy and communities across Christchurch. This is an attitude we would like to see the Council adopt too.

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