Wellington Scoop

It takes two?

by Lindsay Shelton
Less than a month after the Wellington City Council rewarded its chief executive for his revitalised economic strategy, the city has welcomed a second chief executive with a similar responsibility.

South African Chris Whelan started work this month as chief executive of a new council-funded organisation in which he’s charged with focusing on economic development and growth.

Yet Mayor Celia Brown said last month she had confidence that the city council’s chief executive Kevin Lavery would deliver the big economic projects. Lavery was given a pay rise (now $416,000 a year) for exceeding expectations in delivering a revitalised economic strategy.

Which begs the question: if the council is doing it so well, why the need for a second organisation to do the same?

It’s called the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency and the mayor and Fran Wilde said last October that it would

“progress a range of major economic initiatives that will lead to improved regional economic growth.”

There was more from the mayor, who said it would

“bring together the region’s collective skills, talent and resources … for a more effective … growth agency that maximised the significant advantages of the region and gave Wellington’s economic growth agenda a real creative buzz.”

Great words. But what do they mean? Has economic growth has been split into segments, with part of the job being taken away from Kevin Lavery (in spite of his strong performance) and given to Chris Whelan? Five council-owned organisations, with 120 staff including five chief executives, are to be merged into Whelan’s WREDA. Whelan says “there will be changes.”

His previous job was in South Africa. Here’s how he described it in May:

“My current role as head of Cape Town’s business think-tank is all about regional economic growth and there are many parallels with the Wellington region.”

And here’s how WREDA’s chairman Peter Biggs describes him:

“Chris is an economic development expert and just the person to help realise the enormous potential and confidence we all have in Wellington City and the region.”

Clearly it’s all about the economy. And perhaps the new arrival is already thinking about the danger of doing things twice. He told the DomPost: “WREDA needs to set a framework with the councils.” But he seemed cautious about how influential his new organisation could be. “Ultimately it will be the business community who will drive things.” Nevertheless he believed Wellington was “awaking from a slumber” and …

“In five years, I want WREDA to be the go-to agency for economic data, trends and opportunities. This will become the DNA of our agency.”

Is that the start of defining what tasks will no longer be handled by the city council? Does WREDA’s economic mission mean that councillors will no longer be directly involved in decisions about how to pursue economic growth? And who will have the responsibility for assessing – or comparing – whether targets have or have not been reached?

[Yes, this is a reworking of the subject which was first discussed in Friday’s “Move over Kevin” article. I’m hoping that the council will respond by telling us how the responsibilities for economic growth are to be split. Or would “shared” be a better word?]


  1. Esjay, 22. September 2015, 12:29

    Yet another bureaucratic tier that the ratepayer has to carry. I note that Cape Town has a metropolitan population of 3.75 million. When Wellington has 200,000, how will a person with so much talent be able to operate? Will his think big ideas be curbed? I wonder if his salary will surpass that of the Wellington City Council CEO?

  2. Traveller, 23. September 2015, 11:03

    So it’s costing ratepayers around a million dollars to pay two chief executives to run two economic strategies?

  3. Ellie, 23. September 2015, 13:31

    A council with no accountability to the ratepayers except a 3 year voting system that does not elect officers, and out of control. As Esjay says: 200,000 Wellingtonians, having to pay for two economic strategies… is this a million dollars in wages for two people?