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"Council's Economic Strategy Asks the Wrong Question" (by Guest Contributor - 'Lets')

It might come as a surprise to some, but out of 70 odd cities and districts, Thames-Coromandel ranks 4th lowest for median household income at just $41,400.  Comparable rural districts such as Hurunui, Mackenzie, Whakatane, and Clutha have median household incomes around $15,000 higher than Thames-Coromandel.  Also, those councils have achieved growth in median incomes upwards of 30% between 2006 and 2013.  Thames-Coromandel has increased incomes by only 14.6% in that same period.

Perhaps it's not surprising that almost all parts of Thames-Coromandel have levels of social deprivation considerably higher than the national average.  In fact some parts such as Thames and Coromandel towns are at the extreme end of the scale for social deprivation.

An October 2015 Wintec Report confirms there are serious problems in the District with unaffordable and substandard housing. This Waikato District Health Board infographic outlines some very scary health issues confronting the District.

Which raises the obvious question – is the Council's Economic Development Strategy working?  Not very well at all  - judging by these indicators.

Maybe one reason is that the Council's Economic Development Strategy sets out to measure the wrong stuff such as GDP, (the target is to raise local GDP over 2.5%) - rather than its citizen’s quality of life.

 A Report - "Beyond GDP: The Need for New Measures of Progress" sums it up this way -

“We also question the idea that economic growth is always synonymous with improved well-being. Useful measures of progress and well-being must be measures of the degree to which society’s goals (ie, to sustainably provide basic human needs for food, shelter, freedom, participation, etc.) are met, rather than measures of the mere volume of marketed economic activity, which is only one means to that end.”

Those society’s goals to “sustainably provide basic human needs for food, shelter, freedom, participation” dovetail closely with the principles Councils must follow in the recently amended Local Government Act. Namely to

“take into account the social, economic, and cultural interests of people and communities; the need to maintain and enhance the quality of the environment; and the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations” 

Council’s economic development targets such as increasing GDP, the permanent population, export volumes and visitor guest nights tells us little about the economic interests of people.  They tell us nothing at all about the social and cultural interests of people, the quality of the environment and the needs of future generations.  Further, these targets fail to measure whether the Strategy’s over-arching goal to “make The Coromandel New Zealand’s most desirable place to live and work” is being metFine words but having almost the lowest median income and some of the highest social deprivation ratings means there is a huge job ahead on the “desirability” front?

What ultimately matters for residents economically is their disposable income and what matters socially and culturally is their general sense of well-being.  The Quality of Life Surveys undertaken by many city councils  and also Waikato Regional Council measure quality of life through the use of key indicators. These included health, the built environment, sense of belonging, community cohesion, community safety, housing, education, employment and the economy, democracy, and participation in community affairs.  These are the everyday issues which are relevant to locals – not GDP or “export volumes”.

We know how local residents are doing on the median income charts – very badly – because we measure it.  What we don't measure but easily could – is their quality of life.

Thames-Coromandel Council should join the Quality of Life initiative and make these indicators the focus of its economic development strategy. In doing so it will find out how it is doing with the things that really matter to its constituents, - quality of life (or lack of it) and just how desirable the District is, as a place to live and work. Council would also have the data to decide where to focus its energy and resources.

On the income issue, Council should show real leadership by paying all of its own employees and contractors a living wage.  But more on that later.




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Reader Comments (4)

Superb, sharp journalism and incisive, on-the-mark commentary. Thank you both (Bill and "let's") for continuing to raise the journalistic bar in our community. This is arguably the foremost overriding issue facing our local boards and council going forward. Time to break with all the happy talk and get real.

October 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGeoffrey Robinson

Well done Let's.
Looking forward to more of this sort of 'hard to answer' commentary.
Newly elected counsellors and board members - are you paying attention?

October 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Interesting, but I suspect reality is much different. If the Coromandel Peninsula is so socially deprived, and quality of life is so poor, why do so many newly retired baby boomers choose to come and live here? I'd suggest there are many residents here who go to a lot of effort to hide their true wealth and income, and as such their base stats submitted will make them appear to be deprived on the face of it - and that's exactly how they like it. Unfortunately they hide their true wealth so well they contribute little to the local economy - and have little incentive to do so. In a weird sort of a way its almost as if locally we have to find ways of providing disincentives for out-of-area retirees to set up here, and provide incentives for small business, families, and new commercial activity to come in - sorry about that senior citizens!

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterInterested

So "Interested" are you seriously suggesting that only the baby boomers/retirees who choose to live in Thames Coromandel District are the ones who hide their wealth and income, but that same demographic in other adjoining Districts and cities don't do so? Hmmmmm? Maybe you take another look at the map in the post and check out the link and learn how the social deprivation ratings are made.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlets

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