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Powering up the Regions

Dr David Wilson has released a report today that calls for a regionally led approach to realise regional potential in New Zealand. He says that for too long regional development has been top-down and centrally driven and that if we are to achieve a sustainable, productive and inclusive economy, as the government’s 30 year economic plan calls for, then regions need to be empowered to develop their own economies and specialisations.

“We don t have a policy or strategy problem in New Zealand we have an implementation problem.”

There is not enough ‘subsidiarity’ in the system, in governance, operations or funding. A far more integrated and joined up approach is needed. One where more can be decided and funded in a timely fashion in the regions. This will require Wellington letting go a little more.

To address complex issues like improving sustainability alongside productivity, international evidence suggests strengthening the institutions that are close to the action, in regions, where they have the local knowledge and contacts that can improve policy implementation and bring projects to fruition.

Dr Wilson commends the Government for the Provincial Growth Fund but says it’s time to move to the next level in RED delivery. This would include our city-regions, improved intra- and inter-regional considerations for infrastructure, innovation and ‘smart specialisations’, and a more place-based approach looking to address disparities from the bottom up, one community and one region at a time.

Recommendations are:
1. Take a more regional approach to realise regional potential
a) Develop multi-level, multi-actor, fit-for-purpose regional governance arrangements
b) Ensure that resources follow governance to provide a network of capable Regional Economic Development Agencies
c) Build capacity and capability at the regional level for Regional Economic Development implementation
d) Support increased policy flexibility through place-based approaches and risk sharing

2. Take a system-wide governmental approach to improving Regional Economic Development practice
a) Clearly articulate what Regional Economic Development Agencies can and should be doing
b) Clearly articulate what central and local government can and should be doing
c) Increase understanding of regional economic development policy and practice at all levels

3. Take a more subsidiary approach to Regional Economic Development Funding
a) Move from the Provincial Growth Fund to a Regional Development Fund
b) Move from the Provincial Development Unit to a Regional Development Unit
c) Catalyse and partner in setting up Regional Investment Funds administered in the regions

4. Enable regional innovation and specialisation
a) Increase cluster development and smart specialisation
b) Actively invest in innovation and regional specialisation
5. Develop a Realistic Impact Evaluation framework that
a) evaluates context, mechanisms and outcomes over time
b) learns from what is (not) working, why and under what circumstances
c) evaluates region by region and nationally

About the author
David Wilson has been researching, teaching, consulting, advising and doing regional development for over 20 years. He is the founder of Cities and Regions Ltd an independent research consultancy. He is the immediate past chair and a current director of Economic Development NZ, a member of the Independent Advisory Panel for the Provincial Growth Fund, chair of the Inclusive Growth network Aotearoa and a director of Be.Lab (formerly Be Accessible) a passionate and successful social enterprise dedicated to moving people from disability to possibility. He was CEO of Northland Inc, Northland’s Regional Development Agency, from 2013 to March 2019 and prior to that Director of the Institute of Public Policy at AUT where he designed and led the Graduate Diploma in Economic Development and was integral in the Metropolitan Auckland Project that led to Auckland’s amalgamation. He holds a BA in psychology and social policy, a Master of Public Policy (1st class Hons) and a PhD in Regional Economic Development. He is a fellow of the Economic Development Association of NZ and in 2018 received the EDNZ Distinguished Service Award.


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