Venture Hawke’s Bay comes into existence on 1 July 2009, having operated as Hawke’s Bay Inc for several years. Venture Hawke’s Bay will take on dual roles as the region’s economic development agency (EDA) and the regional tourism organisation (RTO).

Publicly funded through rates, Venture Hawke’s Bay has the task of fostering regional economic performance in search of an inclusive and dynamic regional economy. Venture Hawke’s Bay will also promote the region as a prime destination for people to visit for business, pleasure or special events.

These extremely important public functions have only recently been drawn under the umbrella of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. Over the past decade or so, Hawke’s Bay Inc spent $1.2 million annually of ratepayer funds. The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Napier City Council and Hastings District Council each contributed $400,000 towards the activities of the organisation.  

The results have been good in places, but often Hawke’s Bay Inc experienced a bumpy ride, with much of its activities unaccountable, less than transparent, and captured by sector interests with a financial stake in having spending placed in certain areas of activity. Those people elected and accountable for its spending were unable to effectively direct the organisation.

The situation was not helped by staff in Hastings and Napier councils with responsibilities for economic development and tourism falling into the age-old Napier versus Hastings parochialism bogey. Collaboration was often replaced with patch protection and duplication of effort. The region’s ratepayers were the losers. This situation had to change. 

The new Venture Hawke’s Bay now has a sustainable home and is appropriately placed in a regional organisation. In an agreement with Hastings and Napier Councils, the $1.2 million in ratepayer funding will come from the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. Napier and Hastings Councils are required to reduce their rate take by $400,000 each so that there is no net increase to the ratepayers.

The trick in all this is for Napier and Hastings Councils to keep their end of the bargain. Ratepayers ought to be very vigilant and hard on their elected representatives so that they do not pay the price for any duplicity. The sign of infidelity will be seen in Napier and Hastings staff involved in economic development and tourism outputs pushing for more money and seeking to increase their empires. They can only do this if their political masters turn a blind eye. 

It is vital that spending of public funds is transparent and duly elected people are held accountable for this spending. But critically at this time of global economic crisis, Venture Hawke’s Bay has to step up and meet the challenge of supporting a major transformation in the way business is done in the region.

The future prosperity of the region depends on everyone finding a new way in a vastly altered economic landscape. The risk is from Hawke’s Bay’s parochial councils and their leaders not getting over themselves. But also in our local politicians not seeing the need to be actively involved in driving the economy with sound and well-considered interventions.

A restructured, rejuvenated and regional Venture Hawke’s Bay is the right vehicle to take on this task. Venture Hawke’s Bay is gathering much better evidence about what strategies actually work for regions like ours. In an alliance with Auckland University School of Business the organisation is ensuring it has robust strategies to meet recession head on. For the first time, we now have an up-to-date set of economic indicators to measure economic health and to inform decisions. There is accountability and transparency with measurable goals. Now it’s up to us to deliver. 

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