Auckland firms are less pessimistic about their prospects but want city leaders to keep economic development at the top of their minds going into the New Year

A new survey of Auckland businesses finds 90 percent were negatively affected by the pandemic and lockdown but just 50 percent think their prospects will deteriorate next year, down from 70 percent in May.

The survey, by the Committee for Auckland, finds businesses’ highest priority now is the development of safe travel bubbles beyond New Zealand.

Responses indicate a “growing tension”, according to Committee for Auckland director Mark Thomas, between the current  short-term issues for businesses and long-term challenges for the region.

The survey, conducted from the middle of November and pre-dating Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s proposal for the city’s 10 year financial plan, asked for views on Auckland Council’s response and confidence in its ability to make progress on major issues in the city. Goff’s proposal is for a 5 percent rate rise next year and then 3.5 percent for the rest of the decade to ensure the city does not retreat from necessary investment in infrastructure and facilities).

The survey updated one taken at the height of the pandemic and economic crisis in May.

Thomas said: “The economy is the area of greatest concern in the survey. Although council has only limited direct levers in this area, the mayoral proposal does not appear to address this subject.

“Options could include working harder with the government to get a safe travel bubble established more quickly, perhaps piloting overseas tertiary student returns as Australia is doing, and exploring new ways to boost investment into Auckland to help technology and other growth businesses scale more readily.”

“For example, a specific targeted rate on its proposed climate change initiatives, as council has already implemented for water quality and natural environment projects, may be a more effective way for Aucklanders to consider this additional charge. Bundling it into a higher rates charge may make the cost and benefits harder to evaluate.”

He said the mayoral proposal highlighted the challenge Auckland Council had in balancing important longer-term priorities such as climate change with the shorter term economic and other impacts caused by Covid-19.

The survey findings showed care would be needed by the council as debate begins on the new regional ten year plan, but also by central government as it considered infrastructure investment and other pandemic support measures, Thomas said.

“After eight months of Covid-19, the top priority issue for Auckland organisations remains the economy, with housing having risen into second place, just ahead of poverty.”

“Significantly, when asked to think about Auckland’s top priorities once Covid-19 was under control, the economy and housing still dominated, followed closely by transport,” he said.

“Although respondents said Covid-19 induced adversities had increased somewhat during the past eight months, three-quarters (77 percent) still thought Covid-19 presented greater opportunities for Auckland than challenges.

The Committee will present its findings to the council as part of the 10 year plan debate, and also Government ministers.

The Auckland Recovery Follow-up survey was conducted between 13 and 23 November. It surveyed Committee for Auckland members as well as alumni from its Future Auckland Leaders programme. The first Auckland Recovery survey took place in May, when the country was half-way through Alert Level 2 restrictions.

The Committee for Auckland’s membership includes major corporates, public agencies, iwi enterprises and non-for-profit organisations.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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