Thursday, 7 December 2017


On 30 November 2017 I end my association with the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (The Chamber) after 21.5 years of rewarding and sometimes challenging times. Over those 21.5 years I have seen our city transformed, our region go through a period of unprecedented economic development and our Island establish itself as one of the world’s best kept secrets.

My role at the Chamber has allowed me to get a very clear understanding of what makes this economy tick and the significant contribution made to the welfare of our community by our hardworking business sector.

Of course, the earthquakes of 2010/2011 changed everything - from a generally conservative, inward looking, slightly old-fashioned community - Christchurch has been through unprecedented upheaval and is now positioned to be a modern, forward looking, entrepreneurial, multi-cultural city and well equipped to face its future. I will always be proud of the role the Chamber played in the post-earthquake environment. Together with other agencies, we operated as a safe pair of hands for business and through being involved in driving various interventions. I believe we had a material impact on business survival in extremely challenging times.

One of my proudest moments was the appointment of Leeann Watson as my successor. Leeann and I have worked together at the Chamber for 20 years and she has been involved as General Manager for the last eight of those years. She is the right person, in the right position, at the right time to assume leadership at the Chamber. 

Peter Townsend
Chief Executive
Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce

15 November 2017

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Celebrating Christ Church Cathedral

Recently I have been promoting an idea for the rebuild of Christ Church Cathedral which has created a lot of interest.

Now that we have agreement on the restoration of the Cathedral, nobly supported by the Church, the Government, City Council and generous private benefactors we will begin to embark on a seven to ten year restoration programme. I think we should turn the restoration of the Cathedral into a tourist attraction rather than hiding it behind high fences and under shrouds of plastic as it goes through the restoration process. Why not celebrate the restoration of the Cathedral and turn it into a tourist attraction?

A transparent fence could be erected around the construction site. A couple of temporary grandstands could be placed at appropriate locations just outside that fence so that visitors to the Square could sit and watch progress on the Cathedral.

Having the Cathedral restored in full view to the residents of Christchurch and visitors to our city would in its own right become a significant attraction, drawing people into the Square to watch the restoration real time. This would give our city a real sense of ownership of the restoration process and create another attraction in the Square.

Given the timeframes involved in the restoration process, concealing the rebuild of the Cathedral is unconscionable. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Lest We Forget

100 years ago on 12 October 1917 my grandfather’s brother, Sam, died in the mud at Passchendaele

He and my Grandfather Harry Townsend ran a butchers shop at Church Corner here in Christchurch. Sam enlisted with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Three days before he died in Belgium he wrote his last letter to his nephew, also called Sam.  This is what he wrote:

“9 October 1917

My Dear Sam

I was very pleased to receive your most interesting letter and to hear you had seen the battle pictures and tanks. You ask me if I have seen them. Yes I have been in action with them twice but they are too slow for us we usually have them far behind. We have just been in a big push and you will see by the papers captured a lot of prisoners, but there were a lot more killed than captured. They surrender at the first chance, and a more miserable lot you never saw, a lot of them are mere boys from about fifteen to eighteen and seemed very pleased to get out of it. The ground we advanced over was a horrible sight being covered with dead and nothing but deep shell holes from our guns. We have been relieved for a few days. But we are into it again shortly. It is a great pity that the weather has broken as it may stop the advance and is not too comfortable laying in shell holes when you are wet through. Myself and two more fellows were in a shell hole for three days and nights and during the day time we could not show a finger. That is the time when hours a like days. I haven’t seen Addie’s brother “Frank” yet, but I saw her brother Bill the other day for a few minutes. I could not say much to him, we being on the march, but I expect to see him again shortly. Tell Dad I have not seen Stringleman since the beginning of last August and have not seen Wilson or Newman at all. I often see Bruce Harris, he being attached to my Battalion now. Do you remember him? He used to be postman at Riccarton. Bob Raxworthy is wounded and the two eldest boys killed. I haven’t heard how the others got on in this last stint. I shall have to close now, dinner being about ready, and if a man doesn’t get in early he misses his whack. Love to all.

Your affectionate Uncle Sam”

Lest We Forget
Peter Townsend 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Christchurch – will be a city of choice

As the rebuild takes effect, Christchurch has a golden opportunity to become New Zealand’s number one city of choice, says outgoing Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend.
Townsend says Christchurch is back and running after 11,000 aftershocks, 53 of them over five on the Richter scale.
Currently $83 million is being spent in rebuilding the city every week, and by the end of this calendar year 75 per cent of the housing stock will have been repaired and rebuilt. A total of 70 percent of the commercial building repairs and rebuilds will also have been completed, he says.
The cost of the Structural side of the rebuild so far is $33 billion. But there is still a massive amount to do. The total cost of the whole rebuild is still estimated at somewhere between $40 and $50 billion.
EQC insurance proceeds have accounted for around $11 billion dollars of insurance monies injected into the rebuild with other private insurance contributing another $20 billion
“There is nowhere in the world where around $30 billion dollars of insurance proceeds have been applied to the rebuild of a city of 400,000 people”.
“The Government have injected around $8.5 billion into land, infrastructure and amenities”.
Townsend makes other factual and compelling points about Christchurch and Canterbury, as it becomes a city of choice.
• A total of 1100 commercial buildings in the city were lost in the earthquakes but they might be replaced by just 400 buildings.
• By the end of 2020 Christchurch is going to have as much hotel accommodation as it had before the earthquakes.
• Christchurch will be the safest city in New Zealand because all the shonky stuff has gone.
• The city will be the most energy efficient city in New Zealand because it has rebuilt to a new code of double glazed windows, better insulation, heat pumps under the floors to heat the concrete pads and it all results in much cheaper electricity.
• A total of 25,000 Christchurch houses were destroyed or had in excess of 100,000 of damage in the earthquakes.
• There is no other city better equipped in primary, secondary and tertiary education, by a country mile.
• Canterbury is regarded as having one of the top six health systems in the world.
• Christchurch is going to be the most accessible city in the country as its traffic infrastructure is taking off with the southern motorway, the northern arterial route and the west diversion.
• A taxi driver told Townsend that many of his overseas passengers says the drive from the airport into the city is the most beautiful airport to city drive in the world
• Christchurch is the only city in the world with under a million people that has a daily Airbus 380 service
• The city is a target for medical specialists and doctors wanting to live and work in Christchurch. Why – Brexit, Trump, lone-wolf terrorism and Christchurch is seen to be a safe bolt-hole for people to live and bring up their kids; it’s really a compelling proposition.
• Canterbury is not all about dairy. Canterbury grows 68 percent of the world’s radish seeds and 34 percent of the world’s carrot seeds
• Finally, the rebuild of the ChristChurch Cathedral over the next seven to 10 years must be a tourist attraction. 
Townsend says, why not, instead of fencing it off and wrapped in white plastic, why not put glass panelling around the outside of it? Why not put a couple of grandstands in the Square so people can look into the rebuild? And why not make the rebuild of the ChristChurch Cathedral a positive experience for tourists.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Getting Christ Church Cathedral Back

It is a great relief that the decision has been made to restore Christ Church Cathedral. This is the beginning of a long and complicated process that must produce the best possible outcome for the heart of our city.

There are some critical elements of the restoration that need to be carefully managed and thought through.

The restoration is going to take a long time - anticipated somewhere between seven and ten years. This will involve the project being deliberately planned and executed over that timeframe. Importantly that execution will need to be done in a way that will have minimal impact on the heart of our city. It needs to be conducted in a way that adds attraction and interest to our central city as the restoration is conducted. That might mean that the restoration is visually accessible to the public in Cathedral Square.

Of course, the Cathedral needs to be restored in harmony with the Cathedral Square redevelopment. The Square is going through a massive reconstruction and this needs to be done to reinforce the positioning and presentation of Christ Church Cathedral in the Square.

We have got one chance to get this right. The restoration of the Arts Centre is showing us how that can be done with a staged rebuild, sensitive to its environment.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Better Connections

As the Christchurch and Canterbury economies continue to grow apace good infrastructure will be vital to ensure an increase in economic activity is well supported.

The evolution of our highway infrastructure is impressive and needs to continue. The work in progress to connect Christchurch to Rolleston with a four lane highway, the overbridge at the Airport (over State Highway 1) and the continuing progress on the Northern Motorway are all very encouraging.

Regardless of who assumes power post 23 September the continuation of four lane highways from Ashburton through to Pegasus township will be vitally important for our future. It will make an incredible difference to traffic flows on State Highway 1. If the proposed investment is adopted and quickly it will be another big step forward in good infrastructure in Canterbury that will reinforce this city and this region as a living destination of choice.

Regardless of the development of other forms of transport, good regional roading resulting in good connectivity is going to be important for a long time yet. From the perspective of ease of travel through to the efficient movement of products and the increased safety of our roading network, investment is necessary and welcome. 

Thursday, 31 August 2017

NZCCI Election Manifesto

The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce is a key stakeholder in the New Zealand Chambers of Commerce and Industry (NZCCI).

NZCCI have prepared insight documents for the incoming Government after comprehensive consultation with membership across the country. We consider it to be critical that Central Government understands the needs of business, which are many and varied, and recognises the importance of businesses contribution to healthy sustainable communities.

We also are strongly of the view that our regions across New Zealand are quite different and require different levels of Government intervention and support to ensure optimal economic development and progress.

We have made it clear to Government that a one size fits all policy, whether that be covering immigration or infrastructure, is simply not appropriate and we look forward to working with whichever Government manifests itself post 23 September in the best interests of our members and the wider business community.

There are three insight documents:

1.  The first is directed towards the politicians and succinctly outlines our expectations. Click here to view.
2. The second is a member and community facing document which informs them of the rational behind our requirements for the incoming Government. Click here to view.
3. The third document contains all the background material which can be selectively mined to resource an intelligent business-political interface. Click here to view.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Christchurch Health Precinct (Te Papa Hauora) – a key long term economic development project

Te Papa Hauora, the Christchurch Health Precinct, is a key anchor project in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan - bringing together people and facilities. The Precinct will foster and develop partnerships and collaborations that drive innovation across the areas of health research, health professional education and development and clinical services.

Development of the Precinct is being led by The Health Precinct Advisory Council - a strategic leadership group comprising senior leaders of the tertiary health and education sectors: Canterbury District Health Board, University of Otago, University of Canterbury, and Ara Institute of Canterbury, working in partnership with Matapopore (the Canterbury Ngāi Tūāhuriri earthquake recovery group) and the Crown.

The Precinct will make a real long-term contribution to the economic well-being of Christchurch by attracting top quality researchers, businesses, students, health sector workers and associated staff to live and work in the city – indeed it will be a real magnet for talent.

Working with big data is key, as is more effectively linking the health system with industry to commercialise health technology, products and services. Importantly - given that proximity matters for innovation - opportunities exist for businesses to physically co-locate into the Precinct.

It will be simpler and easier for the business sector and collaborators to engage with Health through a single “front door” that provides immediate and coherent access to the capabilities residing in the Precinct.

The New Zealand Health Research Strategy released in June 2017 nicely sits alongside the Health Precinct’s research strategy, and will facilitate Precinct partners and collaborators to further drive innovation in the Precinct.  Government strategy actions identified include more funding to support transformative and innovative ideas; creating industry partnerships, and strengthening infrastructure to support the translation of research into products and services that improve health outcomes.

Canterbury has a strong tradition of clinical research and of collegial links with industry and clinicians who are interested in new ways of doing things. Features that set Christchurch apart from other centres include a single teaching hospital; a single medical school and a single funder of health – making Christchurch an ideal location for research. Additionally, Christchurch researchers are considered to be ‘friendlies’ to the industry and are proven to be innovative and responsive. Examples include the highly successful MARS programme where clinicians and researchers have collaborated to develop a world first colour CT scanner, recently commissioning the prototype for small animals in the US. The B&M Gates Foundation use Canterbury Health Laboratories as a reference lab for their developing countries vaccination programmes.

Christchurch also has strong Māori research capacity at the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre based at the University of Canterbury, and Otago University’s Maori and Indigenous Health Institute. Engagement with these Centres together with Ngāi Tahu’s Hauora programme will help to identify new opportunities for innovation in Māori health research, workforce development and education.

The Health Research Education Facility (HREF) currently under construction will co-locate health education, professional development, and research activities into a purpose-built facility designed to maximise opportunities for collaboration and innovation. Ara’s undergraduate nursing, radiography and midwifery students, and UC’s postgraduate health science students will relocate into the HREF. The HREF will set the stage for partners and collaborators to create a truly unique and innovative health education and research environment that will be of international interest.

This is another good example of how the city is changing its offering and capability as it faces a bright future. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Chamber Board Nominations

Chamber Board elections are imminent. As part of our democratic governance process, every year six positions become available on our Board.

Existing Board members can be re-elected but it is always a good opportunity for those Chamber members interested in getting involved in governance at the Chamber to put their names and credentials forward for consideration.

Board elections are conducted through electronic voting and historically we have had keen interest from our membership. This ensures that those involved in governance are elected through a robust process to represent the interests of the Chamber on the Board for a two-year period.

The Board’s responsibility is to ensure that the policy and determination of the strategic direction of the Chamber is delivered upon by Management. The Board is made up of 12 Directors each serving a two-year term.

I would strongly encourage members to consider putting their names forward as we are an organisation that believes in a robust democracy at a governance level.

Nominations must be received no later than 5.00pm on Friday 18 August and more information on the process and key dates can be found here, the nomination form can be found here.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require further information on 366 5096 or email 

Monday, 31 July 2017

Working Better Together

As we track down to the General Election on 23 September the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce has joined with other Chambers across New Zealand in doing work on what businesses might expect from an incoming Government. Although the economy is in good shape and the prognosis for Christchurch and Canterbury is looking very good from a business perspective there is a lot we can still do better.

Central Government will be pivotal in assisting us to do just that. One of the areas that we think needs some more work is the need for Central and Local Government to work much better together. The interface between the two is often messy and unclear and both Central and Local Government tend to blame each other for the bits that fall down the middle.

There need to be new ways established to drive two-way conversations between Central Government and Local Government. We believe that Central Government needs to review where Local Government sits within the Central Government machine and we need to ensure that Local Government is adequately funded to deliver on roles delegated by Central Government. This will require some work on how Local Government is funded into the future as the current funding mechanisms will not be appropriate as responsibilities and roles continue to change.

We also need to ensure that Local Government is held to account for its collective action, its role in the community and its spending against agreed baselines. If specific work is done on this area by whoever establishes the next Government it has the potential to markedly improve Government outcomes at a national and local level for us all. 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Concerns over news that Christchurch City Council is considering introducing the Living Wage

On Thursday 27 July the Christchurch City Council is considering the introduction of the Living Wage for Council employees. There is no doubt that the concept of the Living Wage is well intentioned. We all want everyone to be rewarded with higher wages as the economy improves. However, there is considerable controversy over the sustainability of the Living Wage concept and whether or not it can achieve its objectives. 

New Zealand’s current Living Wage campaign dates from 2013, based on a calculation by social researchers of the costs of a basic healthy lifestyle for a family of two parents and two children (one aged ten and one aged four), one parent working full time and the other part time. The living family rate was calculated in 2013 at $18.40 per hour and in 2017 sits at $20.20 per hour. Living Wages are calculated on the basis of a notional employee’s domestic circumstances rather than the value of their work (skills and productivity). Many of the potential recipients of the Living Wage will not meet this criteria.

However, if the work done by employees doesn’t generate sufficient value to pay their wages, something has to give. There is abundant literature arguing that lifting minimum wages without supporting increases in productivity may actually increase poverty and unemployment in the medium and long term. This can be readily accessed online through a simple google search (search: “minimum wages increase poverty”).  A central premise is that just increasing the minimum wage increases competition for that work.  The losers in that competition are usually the uneducated, unskilled and inexperienced i.e. those often already on the edge of poverty. 

No matter how an enterprise chooses to label its approach, the approach it takes to wages should be an economically rational and sustainable one.   It is therefore vitally important that enterprises, especially those that are spending ratepayers and taxpayers money, looking to increase wages to “Living Wage” levels do so in full knowledge of the potential consequences. 

This in part is why a majority of existing Living Wage employers are in community groups and taxpayer funded public and local government sectors where their existence is not immediately threatened by the need to be profitable.

Currently accredited “Living Wage employers” are made up almost exclusively of churches, community groups, unions, left wing political parties and a very small number of small and mainly “green” businesses (e.g. organic foods). None of the local authorities that have taken up the Living Wage brand are accredited Living Wage employers.

Our City Council is generally regarded as paying its employees well. It is hard to understand why employees of the Council alone should all be entitled to the Living Wage when other organisations owned by the Council will not be. This indicates an ideologically driven positioning funded eventually by the rate payers of the city. It also sends a strong signal that this could be the beginning of a trend towards adopting an arbitrary Living Wage figure across all entities associated with Council, as is happening elsewhere in New Zealand. When looking at the big picture, one could be excused for suspecting that the Living Wage campaign is simply about raising the minimum wage through the backdoor. That would be very damaging for first time employees and the New Zealand economy.

It is puzzling as to why the City Council would consider branding its employment remuneration under the “Living Wage” banner when it is perfectly capable of remunerating employees at levels which reflect their value and contribution to the enterprise.

In considering the adoption of the Living Wage the Council needs to be very clear of the additional permanent costs this will involve, the pressure that will come on to entities associated with the Council, and the impact on the wider community.

The very small number of larger private sector employers who have increased wages to “Living Wage” levels have all apparently done so in a staged and structured manner that aligns increases in wage rates to increases in the skills and productivity of employees. Employers in this category in fact are not following the Living Wage model as such, as their structured approach has added value to the workers’ labour, rather than compensated them for their domestic circumstances.    

The same could be said for SMEs striving to remain competitive and for whom an obligation to pay unsustainable minimum wages would mean closing down, or shifting into the informal economy. 

We can best achieve higher wages and good employment outcomes by growing the Christchurch and Canterbury economy. Lifting everyone’s wages is something we should all be aiming for, but it’s a matter of how we do that and the basis for it. It is not done by a stroke of a pen.

It is important to this city and our region that we are not seen to be followers of those who have not considered the consequences of adopting the Living Wage. Let’s be a leader of those who have.

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Continuing Evolution of Workplace Relations Policy

Workplace relations have come a long way in the last 100 years. The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce is a combination of the old Christchurch Chamber of Commerce and the Canterbury Employers’ Association. The Canterbury Employers’ Association has a long legacy of being involved in collective wage bargaining and setting terms and conditions with the unions to optimise workplace relations.

Before the existence of the Employers’ Association there were various other entities involved in setting awards and reaching agreement on workplace policy. Recently when digging through the Chamber’s archives I came across the New Zealand Awards, Recommendations and Agreements made under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act for the year 1916 and published in 1917 (exactly 100 years ago). These treaties were produced annually and this 1916 document is 1,415 pages of detailed recommendations, agreements, awards and interpretations as applied to the workplace.

In those days employment conditions were highly prescriptive, wages were determined down to the last penny and every detail of conditions of employment was prescribed industry by industry on a regular basis.

An example is the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Award covering workers in private hotels, oyster-saloons, restaurants, tea and luncheon rooms and refreshment rooms. The wages were prescribed at around £2 per week and interestingly for females in this sector, the prescription was that they would be paid in proportion of not less than three-fourths of the rates prescribed for males in similar capacities.

Under the Northern District Flax Mills Employees Award there were some interesting provisions as to smoking. It states that workers shall not smoke cigars or cigarettes in the swamp and shall not smoke at all when handling or in the proximity of dry fibre. The employer shall have the right to fix the places for smoking and when fixed a worker shall not smoke in any other place and they shall use pipe caps if supplied by the employer.

Under the District Bakers and Pastry Cooks Award there was a consideration of the introduction of machinery relating to automatic bakeries. The Court of Arbitration stated that it had always been opposed to night baking and if the concessions asked for by the representatives of automated bakeries were to be conceded they would have to be considered for all master bakers in order to place all competitors in the industry on an equal footing, the impact of which would be to reintroduce night baking with all its evil consequences to the workers. The consideration goes on to say that the Court would if practical prohibit all night baking to be effective which would be to compel consumers to accept bread which, if not quite so palatable as newly baked bread would probably be more wholesome.

These are examples of highly prescriptive policy where workers and employees were in largely adversary employment relationships requiring extraordinary restrictive and detailed documentation around workplaces. Things have changed in the last 100 years. The relationship between employers and employees is now one of inclusivity, collaboration, transparency and working towards common interests. We need to continue to evolve workplace relationship policies in modern working environments and the open domestic and international economic conditions of the 21st century.

It is important that we all stay attuned to the need to accommodate people in good working conditions and rewarding all people appropriately, regardless of gender or the nature of their work. This is best achieved by all working towards agreed objectives, not by imposing restrictive “one size fits all” divisive workplace relations in a modern economy.

In an election year we all need to keep our eye on that goal. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Hidden Gems

We are extremely fortunate in Christchurch and Canterbury in that we have a balanced economy. Our economy is really a microcosm of the total New Zealand economy, we are not dependent on one particular sector but we have economic inputs right across the spectrum. That makes this economy stable and strong and able to weather downturns if one component of the economy should falter. We have seen that in the past and will see it in the future.

In amongst our economic mix there are some hidden gems - small operators that just get on with their business but who in total make an extraordinary valuable contribution to our social and economic matrix.

Christchurch has always been a center of pioneering and aviation. The city can trace its aviation heritage right back to Wigram which of course now proudly supports the Royal Airforce Museum of New Zealand and a unique display of airforce memorabilia of the highest standard. An organisation that ironically has flown under the horizon for many years is the Canterbury Aero Club.

The Canterbury Aero Club started at the Wigram Airfield 89 years ago and is currently located at Christchurch International Airport. Those of us that do a lot of travelling have probably noticed on take-off and landing the cluster of buildings on the southern side of the airport amongst which sits the Aero Club. The Canterbury Aero Club main facility is at West Melton where some of its fleet of 28 aircraft operate seven days a week, providing all levels of pilot training from a first flight experience through to full commercial pilot licensing. As one of the oldest clubs in New Zealand the Aero Club has made its mark in aviation globally with its international academy bringing students in from all corners of the world to be trained as commercial pilots. All of these students live amongst us in Christchurch and bring a vitality to this city and to the airport with their cultural diversity. Christchurch and Canterbury are blessed with empty skies, a variable terrain, extremely safe airports and generally good flying weather. All of these factors support an increasing capacity for flight training for locals and international customers.

At Christchurch International Airport the Harewood Aviation Park site is focused on commercial training and is unique in the world. Being able to offer training on an active international airport with all that offers from a busy controlled airspace and precision approaches, right through to flying in a way that accommodates the Airbus A380 when it is arriving or departing. It is my understanding that Christchurch International Airport is the only airport in the world with under a million people that has a daily Airbus A380 service that along with all the other aircraft movements provides a unique opportunity for training pilots.

The Canterbury Aero Club has great facilities which it uses not only for aircraft training, pilot education but also has an extremely well positioned lounge overlooking the runway and the aircraft movements of an international airport. Operators like the Canterbury Aero Club need to be recognized and cherished as an integral part of our multi-faceted economy. They are just another unique example of what we have on offer in our part of the world.  

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Immigration Debate, a Hit or a Myth?

It is obvious that immigration is a political hot potato. It is also clear that it is going to continue to be blatantly used as an election tool for the forthcoming general election. Regrettably that means that sound immigration policy is likely to be compromised by short term political agendas and self-interest.

Because of our extraordinary circumstances in Christchurch over the past 6 years, we have relied very heavily on short term and permanent immigration, domestically and internationally. It has bolstered our workforce and materially assisted us to recreate our city. In just the last three years, we have had record migration which has significantly changed the cultural mix of Christchurch. It is important to note that at present, 70% of all inbound immigration in our region is not rebuild related. Most migrants are being utilized in the underlying fast-growing and diverse economies of Christchurch and Canterbury.

The just released Canterbury Development Corporation Economic Update demonstrates that our region needs five times the long-run average of historic inbound migration to meet employment and economic growth projections. Given that, putting a brake on international migration would seriously compromise our economies in the future.  Our dependency on continuing strong levels of immigration across all sectors of our economy should not be underestimated.

Export education brings welcome overseas students into Christchurch and is an important part of our diverse economy. Not only do these students provide a significant economic contribution, but they also pave the way for high skilled permanent migrants to either stay in New Zealand, or come back after their education has concluded. The Colombo Plan of the 70’s, which attracted high caliber students from Malaysia, particularly to Lincoln University, is a very good example of that. That legacy lives on.

The unemployment rate in the City of Christchurch at present is 4.9%. Excluding Christchurch, the unemployment rate in wider Canterbury is 2.7%. An unemployment rate of 2.7% is too low to be sustainable in a growing economy. The key solution to this problem is robust domestic and international migration.

Migrants do not come to New Zealand, and to our region, at the expense of local employment opportunities. They come to New Zealand to earn, to spend, to contribute and to create opportunities, not stifle them. It is hard to believe that locals looking for jobs in our region cannot find them with an unemployment rate of 2.7%. It is also hard to accept that we can continue to grow our regional economy without the ongoing support of new migrants.

It is exciting to see Christchurch becoming an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural city with people of different nationalities coming to Christchurch, many because of the rebuild, and wanting to stay here to enjoy some of the finest lifestyle offerings available anywhere in the world.

A major driver of the political posturing around immigration, is driven by the obvious capacity constraints in Auckland. Christchurch and Canterbury should not get caught up in that problem. As a city, and as a region, we welcome international migrants and domestic migrants, including our friends from Auckland who are living in a stretched community with stretched resources. Here, we have all the fundamentals for good living, and plenty of capacity for others to join us. We have realistic house prices, an abundance new office accommodation, hospitality offerings second to none, and good infrastructure. We enjoy a city that is future focused and positioned in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. 

Let’s take the politics out of the migration debate. We need stable, positive migration policies and strategies that will stimulate our economy, enrich our communities and satisfy our employment requirements. It will be a travesty if immigration as a political football, ends up resulting in an own goal. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Where There Is Smoke

New Zealand society has come a long way in the last 40 years with respect to the behavior of smokers in our community. When I was a child, both of my parents smoked in the house and in the car and it was regarded as highly fashionable to be seen with a cigarette in your hand. My Father started smoking during WWII when all soldiers were given a ration of cigarettes.  I still have an old cigarette packet which has on it “no sore throat, no cough”. In the late 1970’s I can recall travelling on planes, where smoking on board was just a normal part of societal practice.  

Over the years there has been a marked cultural shift and it is now generally accepted that if you want to smoke, you smoke in a way that does not impact on others and you respect other people’s desires not to have their lungs, their car or house contaminated by cigarette smoke.

Smoking in bars and in restaurants is now unacceptable. It is therefore exciting to see the preliminary results of New Zealand’s first ever voluntarily smokefree outdoor dining pilot showing that an overwhelming majority of Cantabrians support smokefree outdoor dining. The project which was in partnership between the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board finished its pilot at the end of April. The pilot involved 20 restaurants, 18 of whom saw the project through. 95% of the 1,861 customers who gave feedback on the pilot project supported smokefree outdoor dining.

Martin Witt from the Cancer Society was surprised at how great the appetite was for a smokefree outdoor dining experience. The other surprise was how positively the change had been embraced by the businesses involved. After the six month pilot project, not one of the venues who completed the pilot project reported a decrease in customers and many venues commented that being completely smokefree has been good for business. The adoption of smokefree outdoor dining on a voluntary basis is an exciting development in our community. The results of the pilot show a continuing shift going on in our community and a willingness to adopt a new level of smokefree venues and thinking. The voluntary pilot project surely has created a mandate to ramp up the adoption of smokefree outdoors in facilities across the city. It would be a wonderful thing for Christchurch if such a change of behavior could be voluntarily adopted right across the city without the need for imposing a regulating bureaucracy and legislation to effect change.

As we continue to regenerate our city and the number of hospitality offerings continues to expand. It would demonstrate good leadership if existing and new hospitality offerings throughout the city could voluntarily opt to have smokefree outdoor dining. That would mean that we could all enjoy hospitality, drinking and eating indoors and outdoors in the knowledge that we would not be contaminated by other people’s smoke. It would also demonstrate that Christchurch has hospitality business owners who are prepared to run ahead of an inevitable trend towards a decreasing acceptance of smoking in places frequented by the public, for all of the right reasons.

I will be watching with great interest the next stage of this project. I applaud the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board for taking the initiative to promote smokefree outdoor dining areas. I suspect the vast majority of our residents and visitors will embrace such change positively. I also suspect that those people who wish to continue to smoke will continue their habit in a way that has less and less impact on those of us who are desirous of enjoying a smokefree environment. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Spreading It Around

Budgets are not what they use to be and the Budget 2017 is no exception. Much of what Finance Minister, Hon Stephen Joyce, announced in the budget yesterday had been clearly signaled in pre-budget announcements. The increase in social investment, more money for the film industry, more spending on housing, millions to be spent on infrastructure (including Kaikoura), irrigation, schools, money dedicated to conservation and more funds for vulnerable children had all been announced prior to the budget and were simply reinforced in the context of the budget messaging. The new announcements also came as no surprise.

Increases in Working for Families and generally looking after families with lower incomes were clearly signaled before the election. The changes in tax thresholds which also impact on lower income earners were strongly hinted at prior to the budget announcements. The combination of the Working for Families increases and the changes in tax thresholds will cost the Government around $2 billion per year. That is additional money that will be circulating in our communities and that should be good for everyone.

This budget was all about spreading available funds around and pleasing as many people as possible in an election year budget. Minister Joyce is fortunate as he had the ability to do that with the economy in good shape, the Government projecting significant surpluses and the prognosis for our economy being quite bright. That is also the case here in Canterbury as a microcosm of New Zealand’s economy. We can expect things to stay, from a domestic perspective, strong and stable and there is every indication that we can enjoy continuing relatively strong economic growth.

We are a lucky province in what, in the international environment today, can be described as a lucky country.

However, you make your luck. The New Zealand economy is in good shape because of consistent economic policies, but also because of the determination of the business community to diversify, to add value, to innovate and to concentrate on export and tourism growth. With GDP growth expected to be over 3% for the next five years the Governments’ of the future have the ability to flex spending. We can all recall prior budgets where it was all about conserving cash and reducing expenditure. It appears that the Government’s target of reducing debt to 20% of GDP by 2020 is achievable. It also appears that the country is well positioned for unexpected economic downturns. So, all in all a positive unsurprising budget, taking into account current economic conditions and prospects.

However, New Zealand is not without its challenges. There is no doubt that our interest rate levels will have to trend up at some stage in the future and many of us are carrying high levels of debt, particularly with respect to our investment in housing stock. That poses a high risk to certain sectors of our economy. We constantly hear of short fallings in infrastructure, roading, rail, tourism amenities and rural broadband. In a rapidly growing environment those infrastructural shortcomings will be exacerbated. There will need to be a quantum shift in investment in diverse infrastructure in the future. We also face the risk of international volatility and uncertainty. We know that the world economies are doing OK, but we also know that there is a real risk of unexpected economic upheaval, and we live constantly with international uncertainty. This is exacerbated by the increasing tendency for other countries to adopt isolationist policies which will disadvantage New Zealand in an international forum.

So Budget 2017 has delivered some benefits to most of us. It has partially addressed the need to look after those with lower incomes across our economy and it has every indication of a relatively well performing economy across most sectors. We can be comfortable with that, but certainly not complacent. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Making Democracy Work

Every year the Christchurch City Council (CCC) invites submissions on its Draft Annual Plan or Long Term Planning processes. The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) comprising almost 3,000 companies, the majority of whom are domiciled in the CCC catchment, has always submitted to the Council in an endeavor to fairly represent the interests of the business community.

While the consultation process is appropriate, it often goes under the horizon and participation from most sectors of the community is very limited. We think it is important that our voice is heard and listened to. We work very closely with the CCC on different fronts on a myriad of issues. Fundamentally we have the same objectives which is to ensure that our city and its surrounds have an offering which is conducive to people living and working here. From the Chamber perspective, we also fully understand the interdependence between sustainable, profitable business and community wellbeing. You simply cannot have one without the other. Accordingly, we submit constructively and are appreciative of the open and transparent platform upon which the Council generally operates and its demonstrable accountability to the community.

There are always areas we will disagree on, usually with respect to different ways of achieving the ultimate objective. For example in this year’s submission we have emphasised our desire for the Council to minimise rate increases and borrowings and continue to assess the merits of realising capital through sales of assets that are not core to its operations. We respect the right of the Council to borrow more and increase rates rather than accrue cash from other sources, but we question the merits of that in the context of a sound financial policy.

We have also commented this year on the need for the CCC to be more aggressive in realising the reality of Christchurch for its citizens. We have noted that the Council has proposed a $152 million reduction in spending on its capital works programme which may ease the burden short term but has a critical impact on existing and future capability and capacity. We question the merits of that.

We also noted that in the exceptional circumstances of the recreation of our city it is important that the Crown and the Council are seen to be working constructively and jointly together and we are pleased to see positive progress in this area. It is still however, a work in progress and there is still much to be done.

Of fundamental importance is the need for more clarity on the strategic direction of our city. In other words, what does all the work that is going on in various sectors of the city (whether it be sub-terrain infrastructure, roading, developing the public realm, or Council owned land and buildings) look like?  What is the end game, what does the “big picture” look like and how will all the work going on result in positive and optimal outcomes for all of us? We believe that there would be much more tolerance in the community of the disruption that is occurring across the city as the new city takes shape, if people had a clearer picture of how things will look and function when the job is done.

Finally, we also think it is legitimate for the Council to address shortcomings in current plans through pausing and reflecting on progress to date and different ways of doing things in the future. We do not believe that this city should be bound by existing plans and strategies just because they are there. We are all in this together, it is important that we all have our say, and it is important that as a result of democratic input we get the right result.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Keep an Eye on the Prize

At a recent Business Leaders Forum hosted by the Chamber, there was discussion concentrating on where our city is at, where we are going and what are our challenges? 

Depending on where you are and what stage you are at, those challenges manifest themselves in different ways. We do know however, there are still a sizable proportion of our population that are not in a good space from a housing and social perspective which all of us have a responsibility to address. We know there are a small number of people still struggling with their insurance companies and people who are “repairing the repairs” which is causing frustration. There are areas in our central city that are causing angst, particularly derelict sites, issues around how accessible our city is currently, and how accessible it will be in the future. Of course, there is the gnarly issue of the Cathedral, which particularly from an external perspective, tends to drag the city down. 

These frustrations need to be addressed and addressed quickly. There is always going to be pain as you build a new city after the most expensive natural disaster in our lifetime - there is inevitably a cost associated with that. As we progress the construction of our new city it is important that we recognise why we are going through some pain. It is also important that we move on from Christchurch being dominated and defined by being an “earthquake city” into the new Christchurch with its existing and new offerings presenting a compelling opportunity for anyone who wishes to participate. 

It is clear that 2017 is a tipping point when what the centre of Christchurch is going to look like is more clearly understood and when we move through to 75% of the construction phase of the rebuild being completed by the end of this calendar year. It is therefore timely to consider what are the unique points of difference that our city has and will have which will make it a city of choice, the most liveable city in New Zealand. From this perspective, it is important that we do not lose sight of what was in place prior to 2010: 

This city has a good health system, which is internationally recognised; 
Its education system and the quality of the offerings are unique in New Zealand; 

  • We have good infrastructure, which is being replaced as is necessary and it underpinned by an airport operating 24/7 and a port that is expanding; 
  • We are geographically well positioned and proximate to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world; 
  • We have a balanced economy which has seen us through difficult times and will continue to see us thrive and prosper into the future; and 
  • We are a city that is small enough to be easily accessible and big enough to have all of the offerings afforded by larger cities. 

The Business Leaders Forum determined that we should move from being “stuck in earthquake related issues” and we should celebrate the progress we are making. We need to put positive messages out to our employees and we need to move away from our city being defined by the earthquakes. We need to reinforce what makes us different and attractive from any other city in New Zealand or beyond. Those differences are generally positive and underpin opportunity. 

Our city of the future will be defined by the experiences of its residences and its visitors. Members of the Business Leaders Forum all affirmed that they were in Christchurch because it is the best place to live and bring up their families. It is important to share this message with and beyond our city.  

Canterbury Build Magazine Editorial: Mongolia – Much to be Learned

Recently I travelled to Mongolia, to the capital city Ulaanbaatar, to address a seminar on private strategies for disaster resilience mitigation of small to medium enterprises in Mongolia. This seminar was sponsored by the United Nations Office for Disaster Relief Reduction and the International Labour Organisation, with the support of MONEF – Mongolia’s Employers’ Federation.

These agencies were well aware of what had happened in Christchurch and how important the lessons we learnt in Christchurch were from a perspective of optimising business survival. It was a real privilege to be able to appear before a group of interested Mongolian businesses and tell them some of the stories that might have application to the Mongolian community in the event of a calamity.

Mongolia is vulnerable to multiple hazards including storms, floods, blizzards, heavy snow falls, wild fire and droughts. Between 1990 and 2016 Mongolia was hit by 21 disasters that resulted in economic damages totalling almost US $2 billion effecting 4.2 million people.

As the 18th largest country in the world by area with a relatively small population of 3 million people, Mongolia is positioning itself for its future in the context of increased risks from natural disasters. The meeting identified the needs and challenges that SMEs experience before, during and after disasters and from my presentation the learnings that came out of the Christchurch earthquake experience.

The attendees came away with an improved understanding of SME disaster risk protection and increased awareness of the potential opportunities for collaboration to improve disaster mitigation and a better understanding of the practical risk management tools tailored specifically for the business community.

We should never under estimate how important the lessons we have learned in Christchurch are and how relatively well our business community has done in the context of unprecedented natural calamity. There is much to be learned and much to be gained through sharing.

I was grateful to be sponsored to Mongolia which is a fascinating country full of opportunity and challenge. We have played a small part in making them better prepared for the inevitability of significant further natural disasters.

Friday, 31 March 2017

The Challenging Changes to Work

The technological changes we are seeing in the world today are unprecedented. Never has technology been more powerful, more available or cheaper than it is today and we are just at the beginning. The projected growth of technology in the next two years is purported to be as much as we have seen in the whole of history. This will have a greater impact on the way we live and work than any of us can imagine.

Concurrent with this is an ongoing concern about the impact of continuing skills shortages on business which CEOs in New Zealand and globally see as a major concern. Both issues mean it is vitally important to reassess the way we educate and the content of our education. It is critical that as we build an increasingly complex economy in our city and our region we have students at all levels being prepared in an optimal way to participate in and across that economy.

The expectations of education outcomes are changing markedly. Employers are looking for young New Zealanders to be able to relate well to others, to be motivated and reliable, to be resilient and enterprising, literate and numerate and to be informed decision makers while being critical and creative thinkers. These attributes are going to be increasingly important as we consider the dynamic future that awaits young people.

Education, particularly at a secondary school level, is not just about allowing young people to make immediate choices that confront them at the end of school but is about ensuring young people are equipped to consider their career paths throughout life. Their career paths will markedly be influenced by changes in the workplace driven by technology. It is legitimate to ask whether our education system will have the ability to keep pace with the changes confronting us.

There are already robots that are perfectly capable of doing background legal research for complex court cases. There are robots that are much more accurate in their pathological diagnosis than human beings. We are seeing the beginnings right here in this city of autonomous electric vehicles, with one being trialled at Christchurch International Airport. Some are predicting that a simple cellphone will be as powerful as the human brain within eight years.

The collection, interpretation and use of data is increasing exponentially to the extent that already some of us are becoming concerned about who is collecting it and what they are using it for.

I can recall in the 1970’s when computer technology was just starting to ramp up that some of us thought the requirement for employees would materially drop over time as computers took over. That did not happen, but slowly and surely, workplace dynamics changed. There are many things that cellphones and computers are doing now that use to be done manually usitlising large numbers of people.

Opportunities for work will continue. However, the work will be different. Employees will have strong literacy language and numeracy skills and increasingly need skills of communication and corporation, computation, computer mastery, creativity, and critical thinking. Tomorrow’s employees will need to be able to think across traditional disciplines make connections and solve problems. Already division of labour is increasingly in teams rather than in hierarchy of command. The old model of educated managers supervising the less educated workforce has gone. So as we face our future we need to be putting much more emphasis on educating our young people in new ways to embrace what is ahead of us. That is a significant challenge for us all. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Keeping Our Heads Above Water

New Zealand is a country blessed with copious quantities of fresh water. Recently some parts of our country have had a lot more than they want, some a lot less. It is an extraordinarily precious resource that must be cared for and used more wisely than it is being used at present.

Historically water usage in Canterbury, and in wider New Zealand, has been very opportunist. We have taken water from wherever we can get it and have used it for whatever we wanted to use it for. We have not had sufficient regard for the way it has been extracted, the way we have treated it and the way we have returned it to the environment. That is all changing. In my opinion 2017 will be the year that the real issues about the sensible utilisation of water right across our communities will begin to be understood and accepted.

In Canterbury almost all the available fresh water passes through or under the Canterbury Plains and out to sea. However, because of the way we have extracted water we have put pressure on very vulnerable areas in our environment, both through creating water shortages and through contaminating water systems in a way that is not sustainable. We need to work out ways to maximise the economic benefit of fresh water utilisation while concurrently protecting and continuously improving water quality and availability.

To drive this change we will inevitably need to harness existing and new technologies which are becoming cheaper, more powerful, more available and more applicable every day. Those technologies will be driven by far better data collection and analysis to ensure we make the right decisions. We will need to ensure that we get communities buying into the need for a different approach to water management. This will reduce waste and inefficiency, allow flexibility and support the development of infrastructure to ensure reliability of storage and water supply. We will also need to demonstrate leadership with respect to how we make better decisions with regards to water utilisation and how we facilitate investment and longer term planning to ensure that we use available water equitably and wisely.

The harvesting and controlled distribution of large volumes of water along the east side of the main divide will be critical in this regard. There have already been good examples of water schemes that harvest and farm water. The Opuha Scheme in South Canterbury is one, and more recently the Central Plains Water Scheme in North Canterbury which not only takes excessive run of river water when it can but also uses Lake Coleridge as a water sink to ensure reliability of supply. These schemes can guarantee water supply when it is needed and also support and encourage the amelioration of environment damage that has been done in the past.

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) has been a good model to manage water allocation and utilisation to date but it is just at its beginning. The important thing about the CWMS model is that it relies on input from right across various participants in our community, all of whom have different requirements for the protection and/or utilisation of water. It relies heavily on reaching a consensus with regards to how water is allocated. That inevitably involves compromise, an appreciation to think strategically and agree on what is the best outcome for the wider community.

Our future is not about putting unreasonable restrictions on water utilisation. It is much more about sourcing water from where we can and utilising it in a way that does not involve environmental degradation. That is possible with use of good technology, sensible water management structures, strategic thinking and good leadership. We can do that in Canterbury and we can lead the way for others to follow.