Dunedin’s department of immigration

The mayor is delighted. In the year ended February 2015 Dunedin had a migration surplus of 659 people.

So, in the mayor’s eyes this justifies the endless strategic planning meetings and the tiresome trips around the globe all arranged to persuade people from all cultures that Dunedin is a wonderful city in which to live and work.

Well it makes a headline, I guess. But where is the substance? I would have thought that given the investment of Dunedin ratepayers’ resource to achieve sustainable economic growth, the mayor would have analysed the migration results in intricate detail before indulging in this self-congratulatory high-fiving off nothing more substantial than a headline.

The first important question to ask is: ‘was this migration surplus a result of:

a) more new immigrants choosing to come and live in Dunedin? or

b) more ex pats deciding to return to Dunedin (which is just recovering previous losses)? or 

c) fewer residents deciding to emigrate from Dunedin?”

if c) the reason is probably more a result of fewer job opportunities in Australia and exorbitant house prices in Auckland and Christchurch forcing people to just stay put.

In reality it probably is a combination of all three, but the proportions are very relevant and certainly something the mayor should have bothered to find out before launching another P.R. release.

Then there is the question of comparative context.

New Zealand as a whole had a nett migration surplus of 55,121 people. That means Dunedin’s share was just 1% of the national growth. That puts a bit of a dampener on the great news. With Dunedin being the 5th largest city in NZ you would expect to get a little more than 1% of the total surplus.

Further, this immigration ‘influx’ represented half a percent of the existing Dunedin population, again hardly Hi-5 material. And of the migration surplus in the Otago region, over half was from outside Dunedin. Central Otago, including the Lakes District experienced about the same growth as Dunedin (648) but that represented a 1.4% growth from their population base. And Waitaki had  growth of 125 which was 0.6% . So where were the special advantages of living in Dunedin? Central Otago and the Lakes district had a much stronger relative result than Dunedin and even Waitaki was slightly ahead of Dunedin.

So the mayor’s claims that a surplus nett migration of 659 people is a vindication of his mayoralty rings pretty hollow without any substantive data to clarify the headline.

Claims that Dunedin City Council has a strategy to make Dunedin a better place in which to setup a business certainly do not align with any comments I have heard from business people trying to get a business going in Dunedin. Dunedin City Council is still commonly talked about as a most obstructive and inflexible institution which appears to be actively discouraging new business.

And the only migration surplus we should be interested in is one that is driven by increased employment opportunities. There is absolutely no point in having more people here if that results in more people simply drawing their social welfare cheques each week.

So don’t tell us what a nett migration surplus is. That is irrelevant on its own. Tell us how much more is being exported from our city and region.Tell us how many more people are actively employed in productive work in our city and region. And if the mayor did not think that he should seek the answers to these questions before launching a self-congratulatory press release, is he the right person to be wearing the big red cape?

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