Statistics NZ’s claims of dire financial woes as it prepared to scrap a vital industry data resource have been revealed in pre-Budget briefing papers prepared for the statistics minister.
The tourism accommodation industry reacted in horror last month to the announcement that the Stats NZ-curated Commercial Accommodation Monitor would not be published post-September.
The monthly publication involves 32 regional reports and a national overview on visitor activity which allows operators and organisations to plan strategy based on up-to-date guest night numbers, capacity figures and occupancy rates.
The resource is among four reports ditched in the dispute between the government and Stats NZ over the rising cost of providing the information – price rises necessitated by IT and census issues, wage increases and higher office rents according to the statistics organisation.
Now briefing papers prepared for statistics minister James Shaw show much heavier cuts were touted, including the possibility of reducing staff numbers by 100 to 200 over two years.
Stuff has revealed documents released under the Official Information Act show Stats NZ considered scrapping a further six surveys providing key statistics on the value of tourism, regional gross domestic product, business operations, research and development, the cruise industry, and property sales to overseas buyers.
However, Stats NZ acting general manager of products, services, and insight, Jason Attewell, told the news organisation all six surveys would continue, and the dire picture painted in the briefing papers was a ‘worst case scenario’.
Stats NZ was hoping to secure an extra $20 million in Budget funding, but received a lesser $16 million increase.
“We were trying to articulate what the implications were of that fall, that there would be something that had to give,” said Attewell
“As we went through a priority list we realised some of those were really important statistics in their own right and we want them to continue.”
A ‘data hui’ has now been planned to discuss ways of replacing the Commercial Accommodation Monitor with a new report including short-stay accommodation.
Stats NZ previously charged the government $520,000 annually for collecting monthly guest nights in traditional accommodation, and is looking to raise the price fourfold to $2.2 million.
Attewell told Stuff that Stats NZ would be reviewing charges to all government departments to reflect the full cost of gathering data.
“Sensible government and business decisions cannot be made in the absence of good data and insight,” he said.
He confirmed other Stats NZ surveys which have been scrapped might be revived if more funding becomes available, with jobs so far reduced through natural attrition to reflect the end of that work.