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Southland Business Groups Critical of Otago Merger

Oct 02, 2020
2064 Views

The Southland Chamber of Commerce has taken to Shakespeare to explain their stance about the Otago Southland Employers Association and Otago Chamber merger.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a Chamber of Commerce by any other word would smell as sweet. But not as the Southland Chamber of Commerce (SCOC) sees it,” their press release stated.

‘Business South’ is the name being proposed by the Otago business groups, and both the Southland Chamber of Commerce and Great South – Southland’s regional development agency, are both concerned about it.

Chief executive Graham Budd said given the role Great South plays to drive local business development, including holding the contract for the Regional Business Partner Network and administering the Government’s COVID-19 Advisory funding, a new entity named ‘Business South’ would cause considerable confusion at local and national level.

“Great South has a clear mandate, and significant national body and government support, to deliver business development services to businesses in Southland. The name Business South would complicate this understanding in the community and potentially lead to barriers in businesses accessing expert advice and support,” he said.

Southland Chamber president Neil McAra said the merger will also confuse the offering of the group by it encroaching on Southland’s territory, and appeared to be a misguided attempt to address the OSEA’s depleting membership.

Neil said it was disappointing there hadn’t been wide or meaningful engagement around the merger process, especially given it would affect some Southland members.

“We’re opposed to their use of the name Business South because it masquerades as having Southland businesses’ interest at heart, when we feel this is not the case, and will confuse the market.”

However, Neil said they have had assurances from the OCC they would not offer services in direct competition with the Southland Chamber, which would undermine its sustainability.

“We get really involved and a one size option simply isn’t good enough for our members because they deserve a dedicated voice for our Southland issues – and we certainly have had plenty of late.”

The Southland Chamber of Commerce said it fiercely fronts issues facing Southland businesses and listens to its members.

It has an extensive track record for a loud and aggressive voice for the business community, and is a successful organisation with growing membership, is financially buoyant and a formidable voice in Wellington and at a local government level.

Southland Chamber chief executive Sheree Carey said Southland representation would suffer over time should the merger go ahead.

The timing was also ill-advised. “We feel that it’s irresponsible to have a merger on the table while COVID is still wreaking havoc.

“It’s a long process to merge and appoint a new CE – who is going to be looking after the interests of members at a time when they need it most?”

A meeting for OSEA members to vote on the merger took place last week in Dunedin, but this was only attended by a minority of members, with no online voting option available for those based outside of the city, she said.

This was the fourth time a merger between these parties has been proposed; “if it’s taken that many attempts then there’s clearly something not working.”

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“Too many times have we seen Southland disregarded and this merger will absolutely dilute the Southland case,” Carey said.

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