Wellington Scoop

Time to question WREDA’s track record

by Ian Apperley
The Wellington City Council has at last turned its attention to the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency and has demanded better performance. It’s about time. WREDA has a track record of talk, with little action.

The Council this week asked WREDA to show “evidence of commitment to outcomes of the regional strategy, setting clear targets, defining what success looks like, being ambitious and taking a greater leadership role in initiating projects, and taking the lead on events such as the Wellington Sevens.”

At the heart of this issue is a feeling that WREDA, funded to the tune of $15.3m each year by ratepayers, is not delivering “bang for buck.”

But The DomPost reports that its chief executive Chris Whelan is unconcerned by the Council’s reproach of his organisation:

Whelan said he was not concerned, because he had received no negative feedback from any Council.

When he made that statement, he can’t have been told about the council’s criticism.

WREDA is a merger of four council activities – events, venues, tourism and growth. It was established late in 2014, when chair Peter Biggs said its eight person board was a “stellar lineup of business, research and academic leaders who would provide powerful and inspired direction”. But it took until May 2015 to hire a CEO. Eighteen months later, the Council is right to ask what its investment has yielded. On the surface: very little. To complicate the matter, because WREDA is a private company, the media cannot ask questions via the OIA process to see what is going on behind its tightly closed doors.

WREDA’s statement of intent has scant information on what it’s expected to deliver. As my grandfather would say, all mouth and no trousers. In its own words:

“this Statement of Intent is an initial indicator of WREDA’s strategic direction over the next three years rather than a detailed outline of specific initiatives.”

Read into that, there is no strategy, no plan. But they do have strategic goals. These include enabling sustainable growth, events, becoming connected, culture & technology, and creating a “regional narrative.”

All of this leaves this writer with a series of questions that WREDA should be able to answer.

There are metrics that WREDA must meet and yet these have not been updated. After two years, how is WREDA tracking against those deliverables?

Where are the strategic plans for each area that WREDA is responsible for?

Where are the minutes of the Board and other Senior Management meetings? While the organisation is private, it should be open and transparent with its operations. After all, there is no competition.

The final question in my mind is; would it be better to spend the money in better ways as opposed to WREDA? In other words, if we disbanded WREDA, would it make any difference? In yesterday’s DomPost report:

There was understood to be some unhappiness within the city council about how long it was taking the agency to get things done. Whelan said Wreda had returned about $5 for every dollar invested. “No matter how well we do, like any business, we want to lift the bar and ask how we can do better.” He was confident it could achieve any goals set by the council. “People always have high expectations of Wreda, and that is highly appropriate. In the last financial year, Wreda had achieved significant wins for Wellington’s economy, at the same time as conducting a major amalgamation process.”

Clearly there are concerns, shown by the fact that the Council is sending WREDA a letter of expectation, demanding a clear focus. It will want evidence of WREDA’s claim that it has returned $5 for every dollar spent and it will want to be shown how the organisation is tracking against its goals.

Being confident of being able to deliver “any goals set by the Council” seems to be a throw away remark. It’s time for WREDA to provide evidence of how it is a useful arm of the Council. Otherwise, consideration should be given to shutting it down.


  1. CC, 17. December 2016, 10:03

    WREDA sounds like a continuation of the likes of WWL and the Karori Sanctuary. An ‘agency’ commandeered by ‘free-enterprise’ idealogues with a board containing the usual suspects totally unaccountable to the ratepayers who front with the cash. WREDA should have to operate like service providing charities. With such organisations, the manager is answerable to an unpaid board, then raises funds from sponsors and donors to pay themselves, service providing staff and finance the essentials of the services they provide. Another option would be to apply the concept of ‘user pays’. In doing so, it would be accepted that most ratepayers will not use WREDA’s services and will never profit from its activities.

  2. Traveller, 17. December 2016, 10:29

    User pays is a great idea. There could be a levy on every ticket sold for the Sevens and for WoW, which would help pay the costs of running WREDA, if there’s proof that the amalgamation had any potential value. (Have there been savings by having one chief executive instead of three?)

  3. Henry Filth, 18. December 2016, 22:54

    Reading this, I get the strange feeling that here is an organisation with no performance indicators or monitoring.

    How does his happen?

  4. Trevor, 24. December 2016, 19:43

    Good article. Big questions being asked about WREDA’s performance in many quarters around town. Not sure that these can keep being deflected. Media should be asking more searching questions about what is going on.

    Interestingly there are big problems at the Auckland equivalent ATEED also. Watch that space too.