Billion dollar water bill for reform
The Government has already spent $34 million designing a reform so badly received they plan to bill water users more than a billion dollars to bring stakeholders on board.
Figures released by the Department of Internal Affairs shows that the Government has spent $34 million to date on the four mega-corporation model for Three Waters Reform, with more than $9 million on staffing and $24 million on external contractors.
The more than $1 billion mooted as part of the ‘no worse off’ and ‘better off’ funding package being given to councils will be funded through future water charges from the new entities.
Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori Chair and Manawatu District Mayor Helen Worboys said a cheaper and more effective option would have been to listen to stakeholders rather than spend millions on expensive consultants.
“While any reform of this type isn’t going to be cheap, to spend $34 million to come up with a flawed proposal that no one is happy with beggars belief,” she said.
“Flaws aside, to then mandate a reform that’s overwhelmingly unpopular with communities and requires more than a billion dollars in spending to convince councils to come on board, when councils agree reform of some kind is necessary, is an astounding waste of money.
“Communities 4 Local Democracy has used its expertise and knowledge to put together a workable framework for reform that could get broad council and community support for a fraction of what the Government has spent so far on travel alone.
“If the Government had come to councils at an early stage, and in the spirit of true partnership, this could have been a completely different story and significantly cheaper one.
“Why they would pay more than $1.2 million to a Scottish water regulator for a model, rather than come to the people actually running the services in New Zealand, is truly baffling.
“But we owe it to our communities to work constructively on this, that’s why our door is always open to work with the Government on a multi-party model that works for everyone, not something that could end every time there’s a change in the party in charge.
“Not all of the $34 million is a wasted spend, we can use the knowledge gained from councils to help bring in more flexible and effective solutions.
“It’s not too late to save this reform, we just need some real collaboration not coercion.”
South Taranaki Mayor, Phil Nixon says Government plans to force through the three waters reforms virtually unchanged is a worrying attack on property rights and community voice.
The recently announced changes embed an unusual public shareholding model, where shareholders would have no rights other than the ability to decide whether or not to privatise services.
They also propose another level of complexity in governance, taking most councils even further away from a position of influence.
“This tinkering around the edges doesn’t make the model itself any more palatable for our communities,” says Mayor Nixon.
“This is not good for local democracy or local decision making as the Government has continued to force this reform through without the consent of its stakeholders or their communities.”
“For us to hand over millions of dollars of assets our communities have paid for in return for a single share of no real value is absurd. If the Government can decide by decree to redefine ownership in this way, it sets a worrying precedent over ownership on a far wider basis.” Mayor Nixon has also criticised the further watering down of community input, which will particularly effect small councils.
“While I’m disappointed in the Government’s initial version of the legislation, we’re committed to working to get a better model in place that works for everyone. Before the government had started talking 3 Waters reform our three Taranaki district councils had initiated work to see if there were benefits from us merging our water services. We completed two stages of this review before we agreed to put the work on hold due to the government’s proposal. The results of this work showed benefits of us working together in Taranaki, which we believe would be a far better model for our communities than the model the government is forcing on us,” he says.
I’d urge everyone to get in touch with their local MPs to ensure they know what you think about this plan, and I’ll be encouraging significant local participation in the select committee process.”
For more information about Communities 4 Local Democracy and its model for better reform, visit: https://www.communities4localdemocracy.co.nz/ideas