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Council cannot ignore partial asset sales

 Published Christchurch Press, 23 December 2012

Austerity. The very word holds about as much appeal as a curdled rice pudding on a hot December day. Financial restraint is not a sexy political slogan that aspiring council representatives dream about at night, heading into an election year. But it is the policy mantra that needs to be adopted in 2013, for the sake of Christchurch.

The average city ratepayer now forks out more on rates than fuel, despite the Government’s impending assault on petrol excise. Funding the Christchurch City Council’s share of the rising rebuild tab remains reliant on higher rates, indebtedness and deferring capital works. This recipe is notable for its lack of courage or imagination. Shovelling an ever-increasing sack-load of council debt onto the backs of our children is an unsustainable way to fill the hole.

Meantime, the council is becoming increasingly dependent on hefty dividends from the likes of Orion and Christchurch Airport. Yet these council-owned entities are subsequently seeking to unleash voracious new revenue raids, be it the airport’s overhaul to commercial passenger vehicle charges or Orion’s proposed levy hike on power bills.

I was pleased to hear in the past week Associate Earthquake Recovery Minister Amy Adams ridiculing Orion’s obligation to pay the council $30 million, while it gouges the consumer.

Surely the call for the council to consider a partial asset sales programme cannot be ignored in next year’s Long Term Plan. The council should also cauterise its carnivorous spending appetite, its propensity to hurl money at dubious pet projects and its most peculiar attitude that it must be the entertainer-in-chief for Christchurch. A few signature festivals, like Ellerslie and the Buskers, is fine. But leave the rest to the market.

As the recent Wine & Food Festival in Hagley Park demonstrated, successfully staged events aren’t dependent on the command, control and coffers of the CCC.

Jingle all the way

In one of life’s lovely little ironies, I witnessed a spectacular outbreak of car-park rage this week, as “Grandma Got Run Over” blared from the shopping mall speakers. But according to Canterbury University’s Marketing associate professor Paul Ballantine, festive tunes in shops increase their purchase probability.

Really? I’ve never been seduced into buying anything, anywhere, anytime while “under the influence” of Mariah Carey or the Royal Guardsmen.

Festive fragrances could make me linger in a store – and possibly buy. Remember the whiff of roasted peanuts at the old Farmers store in Colombo St? Now that was retail gold. I suspect the aroma of pine needles and Christmas lilies would be retail winners too.

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