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In charge . . . New Waitaki District Council chief executive Fergus Power. PHOTO: HAMISH MACLEAN

If the Waitaki district is to flourish, it needs to be more diverse and consider ways of attracting young families to the region.

That is the view of new Waitaki District Council chief executive Fergus Power, the former Wairoa District Council boss who replaced Waitaki chief executive Michael Ross and started in his new role on Monday.

Mr Power said he planned to take time to get to know the organisation and its staff before he considered making any changes or decisions that might have an impact on the way the council operated.

One of his first orders of business would be to determine where the council’s executive team’s strengths were, and how they could work together more effectively.

That was prompted by the resignation of council community services manager Thunes Cloete, who ends his tenure at the end of the month.

“With the recent resignation of Thunes, it’s an opportunity to look at the distribution of responsibility amongst the senior management team and to look at making sure we’ve actually got the reporting lines correct within the organisation.

“I think there’s been a little bit of a period of holding the line, if you like, with the decision by the former chief executive to leave, and prior to that, a tier-two manager resignation left uncertainty also.”

He said it was time to bring that uncertainty to an end and while there would be some change, it would not impact on senior staff directly, “other than increased clarity of reporting in terms of senior management”.

Mr Power believed the council was in a “strong position” in terms of its financial position and leadership.

Asked about the challenges the district faced, he said it was too early to go into specific detail, but did offer his view on what the council’s role might be to help achieve prosperity.

“There are some that do stand out that speak for themselves. That is the demographics of the population and what that means in terms of an ageing population to the future, what council’s role is, and the appetite that council will have for an active intervention in terms of changing that, because it is possible to actively intervene and change what otherwise might have been the course.

“To look at Statistics New Zealand data from a historical perspective and assuming that projections are going to continue into the future following the same sort of trend is tempting, but actually lazy.

“All communities are in control of their own destiny to some extent and it’s about picking out those .. little-bit-adventurous paths that can be trodden to make the economy more resilient, to attract larger families to the district to start up or join businesses.”

He said the district was performing well economically, but could be doing better.

“Because of the demographics of the district, there’s a need for diversification and a need for … attracting young families through who can not only keep our schools well occupied and our sports facilities well utilised, but actively change a demographic which would otherwise inevitably result 20 or 30 years down the track.”

Mr Power said that could be achieved by the council being more “business friendly” and making business people’s experiences when they dealt with the council as easy and stress-free as possible, instead of a source of frustration.

He was considering the introduction of an internship programme, based on the Wairoa council’s successful model.

That would allow university students from New Zealand and around the world to work alongside council staff in certain areas.

“That can be a very powerful tool in terms of increasing an organisation’s ability and agility to respond rapidly to opportunities that arise in relation to potential new economic development or even assist in a very fundamental way with council’s operations, which are very varied.

“There’s ample opportunity for the injection of really capable interns to come in and to help accelerate some of the change that may be necessary in some of the areas we’ll be strengthening.”