Michael Barnett: Shift in leadership of Auckland urgent

Auckland has plenty of work to do to keep pace with its international competitors. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Auckland has plenty of work to do to keep pace with its international competitors. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The leadership required for a fast growing global economy has changed.

While Auckland managed well as other cities and countries struggled over the past five years, that leadership is urgent if we are to keep up with our Asia Pacific neighbours as they step up from recovery to growth.

It is more urgent for Auckland because we aspire to be an international city of scale, which means stepping up our performance, keeping ahead of others with similar aspirations and changing some of our behaviour.

There is no doubt that Auckland's Economic Development team have a clear strategy for the next 10 years and some tough targets.

But there are some initiatives that could make a difference to Auckland right now if we are prepared to set some short-term objectives and put actions in place alongside some passionate people and demanding measures.

For the past three years, and possibly more, Auckland has been government-led as we put in place a new city and new structures. The figureheads from Wellington and Aucklanders have played important roles, and will in future, but if we are to move at a pace that keeps Auckland in the game we need to move from a government-led economy to a shared leadership of government and business.

We need a sense of Auckland taking greater ownership of its destiny.

This shared leadership should focus on initiatives that will have an immediate impact on employment, growth and investment.

It should acknowledge the limited resources we have and see how to stretch those resources by deciding on the things we need to do and doing them well.

Local government will need to work with business and business will need to put some energy into the things we need to do and be prepared to advocate those things to the community and, if needed, to central government.

A part of this shared leadership is an Auckland Business Leadership Group that mayor Len Brown has asked me to chair and as we start the process of recruiting leaders for our first initiatives this is what our early agenda looks like.

Youth employability
Our levels of youth unemployment in Auckland are unacceptable. There are some very good initiatives sponsored by government and business but we are concerned there is a lot of duplication, wasted dollars and energy.

Our initial action will be to determine what is working and with the help of government introduce what works well across Auckland.

Attracting investment and trade
Actions include the development of an Auckland prospectus which will tell the Auckland growth story and identify the infrastructure investment opportunities and sectors that are actively seeking investment.

An opportunity we have is to take the prospectus and promote it to what we have referred to in the past as "sister cities" which we believe we can develop as global partners.

Attracting and retaining talent
We have decided that Auckland requires a "here and now" determination of what skill shortages we have now and what this is expected to be over the next 12 months.

A number of databases from key business organisations are being used to survey businesses and provide this information.

Once completed we will launch an initiative to promote these vacancies overseas and also use it to determine what training could be put in place in this country that will enable us to use possible talent.

Telling Auckland's story
There has been some good work on this in the past and Trade and Industry have done some excellent work on the New Zealand story that talks of open minds, open spaces and open hearts.

But Auckland needs to have a story that articulates the excitement of living and working here or investing, staying, playing and being a part of the future Auckland has to offer.

We will need some help on this but it will be a fun project to do.

Other agenda items include having Auckland Council as "easy to do business with", ensuring we have the right infrastructure for New Zealand's only international city of scale, supporting innovation and helping the growth and performance of Maori business.

What is true is that there are some leaders in Auckland who know that there are initiatives that could be taken up with speed and urgency and which will accelerate Auckland's pursuit of being that most liveable world city.

Shared leadership could have us all carry the case for Auckland.

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

- NZ Herald

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