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Stats NZ cites lack of cash for cutting four lower tier business surveys

Thursday 6th June 2019

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Statistics New Zealand has dropped three annual business surveys and the monthly accommodation report, saying it can't afford to keep churning out the data. 

It will no longer produce the annual energy use, screen industry, and internet service providers reports, and will stop publishing monthly accommodation surveys after the September report is released in November. 

The agency said it's under significant cost pressures and can no longer run these surveys based on present funding, some of which was provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. 

Dropping the accommodation survey didn't go down well with tourism industry groups, with Regional Tourism New Zealand calling it the only information on the volume of both domestic and international visitors around the country.

"It is unbelievable that only weeks after ministers Kelvin Davis and Eugene Sage announced a strong commitment to improving an understanding of the industry through data, Stats is ditching a key source of information without offering an immediate replacement.”

Stats NZ said it and MBIE agreed the cost of producing the survey was higher than the available funding and unsustainable given the statistics department's other pressures and priorities. 

"An underlying Stats NZ budget 2019 assumption was that we would pursue full cost recovery of our third-party surveys," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"If we are unable to achieve the full cost recovery required, Stats NZ needed to consider stopping some surveys to focus our efforts on higher priorities."

Stats NZ said it has previously "drawn on a number of unsustainable ways to pay for operational spending, using revenue from insurance payments following the Kaikoura earthquake and also using money initially intended for capital spending to help bolster operational spending."

In the June 2018 year, the agency ended up with a surplus of $1.2 million, having reported an $8.1 million deficit the prior year due largely to the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. It received $183.5 million of Crown funding in 2018, some $20.2 million more than its budget, most of which was due to the timing of its 2018 census funding. 

Stats NZ's $14.6 million of other revenue included a $5 million insurance progress payment from its material damages and business continuity cover for the now-demolished Statistics House in Wellington. 

Stats NZ has often missed out when the government has lifted its spending programme. Finance Minister Grant Robertson's first 'well-being' budget last week was no exception.

The government expects core Crown spending will rise 8.6 percent to $87.3 billion in the year ending June 30, and by the June 2023 year predicts an operating bill of $105.7 billion. More than half of the $15.4 billion of new operating spending flagged in the next five years will go into health, social security and welfare, and education. 

The total appropriation for Vote Statistics is largely flat for the next five years at around $166 million, or about 0.2 percent of 2018 core operating costs. The multi-category expenses and capital expenditure appropriation - which seek to cover operating and capital spending - are largely unchanged at $138.6 million in the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years.

While direct Crown funding rises by about $6 million to $130.6 million in the 2020 fiscal year, funding from other agencies drops by about $6 million to $8 million.

The funding shuffle will see a $1.4 million reduction in spending on economic and business data and statistical information use - data that relates to business and the economy - while spending on data relating to the population, environment, household economics, social conditions and the labour market - will rise by about $1.7 million. 

“Government agencies regularly look at how taxpayers’ money is spent. We need to get a better value when collecting data, in the interests of all taxpayers,” deputy Government Statistician Denise McGregor said in a statement. 

“We understand that some groups may be disappointed by the loss of these surveys because they provide important market updates on their particular sectors."

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the accommodation survey wasn't perfect, and while Stats NZ and MBIE had begun work on ideas for a replacement, the outcome was at least a year away. 

Roberts said the decision to drop the accommodation survey flew in the face of the government's objective to have better data and insight to support the tourism industry. 

Stats NZ said it will work with other government agencies, industry and interest groups to find ways to fill the gaps created by cutting these surveys. 

(BusinessDesk)

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