Wellington Scoop

A shrinking Chamber, on the attack

On the same day that the Wellington Chamber of Commerce said it was “ready to move forward”, we learnt there’d been a substantial drop in its membership. And in the same week that the Chamber announced it was taking the Wellington City Council to court, the council announced cheaper bus fares to help the Chamber’s members attract more business for Christmas. Mixed messages indeed.

The Chamber didn’t mention its declining membership when it said yesterday it was in a strong financial position to move forward. The drop in membership was uncovered by Collette Devlin in the DomPost:

Chamber documents show membership had been slipping, with more members resigning than signing up. The minutes from the chamber’s 2014 AGM say there were 1200 members. However, membership documents show that in August this year there were 606 members. The documents show in June, 17 members left the chamber resulting in a loss of $17,797 in subscription fees and in July, 16 members resigned, with a loss of $9018 in fees.

The Chamber insists that its activities (including the court case?) are what its members want. But deputy mayor Justin Lester has a different view of what the chamber should be doing:

… the stance the chamber had taken on Wellington was often negative, which could be putting businesses off. “It’s slightly disconcerting. We need strong leaders for business in the city. They should focus on talking up Wellington and what is great, rather than focusing on negatives.”

And one of the unsuccessful candidates at this week’s election offers another reason for the chamber’s membership problems:

… while some really good stuff is done for members, we are not appealing to younger members and to some sizeable special interest groups. This is evidenced by the rapid growth in various competitor offerings through Meetup groups (meetup.com) in Wellington. None of these existed five years ago, and most didn’t exist two years ago. There are no fewer than five business and entrepreneur focussed Meetup groups in the city, with over 2,500 members. Startup Garage alone has over 1,000 members. Most members are under the age of 40. If the Chamber is to remain relevant long term it must appeal to these folks as well as the current membership.

The Chamber of Commerce’s “reluctant” decision to take the city council to court seems to conflict with some of its earlier, warmer relationships with city politicians.

In May said it was “on the whole positive” about council plans. A year earlier (unlike other groups in the city), it approved council spending on a convention centre. It also agreed with the expensive merger to create WREDA which it said would provide serious impetus for economic growth.

In March last year, after a forum with the chamber, the city council announced it would be creating “transformative growth,” as a result of a closer understanding on how to work together with the business sector

In 2013 the chamber should also have been pleased to learn that the council was the most successful in NZ for supporting local businesses, and in 2012 its members surely welcomed a new council fund to offer support to small city businesses.

But what seemed to be a positive relationship has come unstuck with the chamber’s plan to to take legal proceedings against the council’s decision to pay a “living wage” to its security contractors. The living wage decision (fiscally neutral, as the council has cut spending from another budget so it can’t be accused of extravagance) will cost about the same amount as the council is spending to subsidise cheaper bus travel at Christmas. The cheaper fares for a month will be of special benefit to retail members of the chamber of commerce – so there’s not likely to be a challenge to that expenditure. It’s even worth remembering that some of the security workers might be spending a few of their extra dollars in the shops – unless the Chamber succeeds in stopping their pay rise.


  1. Ian Apperley, 12. November 2015, 19:20

    Question. What does it cost for a business each year to be a member?

  2. City Lad, 12. November 2015, 19:35

    A great pity Kirkcaldie & Stains are having their last Christmas and closing early next year. Just like the Chamber of Commerce with its declining membership, past and present leadership is questionable.