Council undecided about long-term commitment to development body
Manawatu¯ District councillors aren’t convinced the economic development agency they share with Palmerston North is worth the millions they pay for it.
Councillors have expressed a desire to review the Central Economic Development Agency, which they said few people in the district had heard of.
The agency is tasked with managing the economic development of the region, which included tourism and attracting new businesses.
Councillors could not point to its recent achievements, though Manawatu¯ mayor Helen Worboys told Stuff its work often happened in the background or in confidential business meetings.
Despite the concerns, the council committed $2.15 million over the next three years in a vote 10-1 in favour of the move. Councillors agreed to a review and possible withdrawal from the agency by 2024.
At a council meeting yesterday, councillor Shane Casey was the only elected member to vote against giving the agency the money.
Casey said despite the council giving the agency time to prove its worth, ‘‘they’ve lost sight and vision’’ and it ‘‘no longer bring[s] in best value for money’’.
Cr Steve Bielski said he believed ‘‘CEDA means nothing to a lot of people in our district’’, but because the ‘‘wheels have moved so far forward’’ in the contract process he supported the council financial contribution for the next three years.
After learning that the council would need to give 21⁄2 years’ notice if it wanted to withdraw from the agency, Cr Heather Gee-taylor suggested it give that notice soon, ‘‘so we’re not locked in’’.
Cr Hilary Humphrey asked why the council didn’t give the money to Feilding and District Promotion instead, which had already received $147,000 for economic development work in the past year.
Mayor Helen Worboys told Stuff after the meeting this was because Feilding and District Promotion had been tasked with the retention and expansion of local businesses, whereas the agency was key in attracting international business for the whole region, Palmerston North included.
It was unfair for councillors to criticise the agency when the council had not been offering any direction.
‘‘There’s also a lot of confidentiality. They’re working on all sorts of leads ... It’s commercially sensitive. Councillors not on the joint strategic committee [with the city council] miss out on those discussions.’’
Worboys said that because of council interference down the years, most recently including Palmerston North withdrawing $200,000 from its $2m contribution to the agency, ‘‘people are resigning’’..
‘‘We’ve lost the CEO. We lost board members ... CEDA is asking what they’re doing here.’’
The agency was approached for comment, but did not respond.