A lack of unity among Hawke's Bay's councils is a factor in the region's poor economic performance, Tukituki MP and cabinet minister Craig Foss says.
But the claim has been rejected by political opponents and local mayors, who say the Government has failed to provide a plan for regional economic development.
Mr Foss who is standing in the Tukituki electorate again, called for a more unified council strategy on economic growth yesterday after the ASB/Main Report Regional Economic Scorecard for the June quarter rated Hawke's Bay just two out of a maximum five stars.
The ASB/Main report is the latest to show the region's performance is lagging behind other parts of the country.
"For the region to move ahead, our regional leaders need to be pretty much on the same page as to our strengths and opportunities across the Bay and prioritise those accordingly," Mr Foss said.
"The priorities of the different councils aren't the same, and until they are Hawke's Bay will keep having the same debates we keep having.
"We all need to step up, look at our strengths, win the discussions and arguments locally to present a much more united front to the rest of the country, because the rest of the country is hearing disparate voices, different opinions from a place which they just see as one region."
Mr Foss said central Government was "doing as much as we can to enable regions and it's up to the region to promote itself". He said the Ruataniwha water storage scheme was an example of the type of project regional leaders needed to embrace, but there had been "different levels of enthusiasm" for the project among the region's five local body leaders.
"How much different the process around that could have been if we had agreement and prioritisation across the region of the benefits of that project, and even more importantly the next project after that, and the next project after that."
Napier National candidate Wayne Walford said that, as economic growth was starting to happen, he agreed the region needed to go to the Government with a plan to boost prosperity. But Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said Mr Foss was out of touch because there was already a regionwide economic development agency in the form of Business Hawke's Bay.
"Everywhere it matters in Hawke's Bay we already operate as one entity.
"The reason the provinces, such as Hawke's Bay, are suffering is that the Government has totally neglected us.
"For Craig Foss to suggest it is anything to do with local government not pulling together is just a nonsense."
He said local government legislation passed in 2012 restricted council activities to core services, shifting their focus away from economic development activities.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule agreed with Mr Foss that the Government could only do so much in the regions and that a united front would help Hawke's Bay's economy.
"Every time I look at where we are as a region there is no plan. There is even a reluctance to understand that what is going on around us means that we are losing competitiveness by the years. We need to wake up to the competitive nature of society and New Zealand and the world and we need to have a comprehensive strategy and plan that buys into that."
But Mr Yule said population drift was putting pressure on people and resources in the regions and as president of Local Government New Zealand he had challenged the Government on what it planned to do about it.
Labour's Tukituki candidate, Anna Lorck, said the region needed a clear growth strategy.
"Regional New Zealand has been neglected and we need a stronger regional voice."
Napier Labour candidate Stuart Nash said economic development needed to be a partnership between central and local government - especially since the 2012 law change - but the Government hadn't provided an adequate strategy.
Conservative candidate for Tukituki Stephen Jenkinson said Mr Foss's stance was a "cop out".
"The real problem is the attitude of central Government. We've had two local MPs in cabinet [Mr Foss and retiring Napier MP Chris Tremain] and they've basically underperformed and let the region down."
Tukituki Green candidate Chris Perley said the Ruataniwha dam was not an economic solution because it would simply promote commodity production of milk and produce that would ultimately lead to a reduction in wealth, rather than increasing prosperity.
Ikaroa Rawhiti Maori Party candidate Marama Fox said the party's employment policy included working with iwi to develop economic activity through local business development and growth.