Mayor defends bringing functions in-house

SHARE

For Queenstown mayor Vanessa Van Uden, bringing some core functions back in-house isn’t just about saving money. 

It’s about saving you as residents and ratepayers time. 

Queenstown Lakes District Council yesterday announced it has decided to disestablish two Council-Controlled Organisations (CCOs) – it’s regulatory and consents body Lakes Environmental and recreation and venues manager Lakes Leisure – at a meeting in private that morning. 

The decision was made after councillors considered recommendations by an independent team – led by former Auckland Regional Council boss Peter Winder – brought into conduct a wide-ranging organisational review of council staff and its operations. 

Van Uden says council immediately informed the Lakes Environmental and Lakes Leisure boards after the meeting. 

It was left to the boards’ directors to inform each of the CCOs’ respective staffing contingents. 

Van Uden is bullish about the benefits of the dramatic changes. 

“If you want to hire a park to do something you have to come to council for part of the approval, you might have to go to Lakes Environmental for the resource consent and you’ll have to go to Lakes Leisure to get it signed off,” she says. 

“If we’re trying to improve things part of that isn’t just saving money, it’s actually about getting efficiency by not having someone have to traipse to four or five different places.” 

Van Uden says governance costs will also now be able to be taken out of the equation. 

“These is no incremental cost to you for us as politicians to provide that governance function. That governance function comes out of it.” 

Van Uden says the boards – which will continue in their roles in the meantime as the process is worked through – had steered their organisations through numerous challenges over the past years and should be thanked for their dedication and hard work.” 

“We also believe strongly there are efficiencies to be had – not just within our operations but it’ll be more efficient for people to engage with us rather than having to go to three different places for consent to do something at Earnslaw Park. 

“The aim is to be a one-stop shop,” she says. 

“You want something done, you go to one place,” Van Uden adds. 

“We can improve overall council services. There will be no unnecessary overlap and a consistent approach to everything we do.” 

Van Uden says one part of the review was to deal with the CCOs, while the other is looking at the required staff structure – a draft report on that is due on April 2 and a consultation period will follow. 

The changes are due to take effect at the end of June. 

“It’s clearly business as usual in the short term. The public will be dealing with the same staff at the same locations until we can finalise the changes over the coming months.” 

Mountain Scene: Are the directors going to get severance payments? 

Mayor Van Uden: The directors don’t have a relationship with us that is such that they have an expectation of severance payments. Our constitution enables us to remove a director for any reason whatsoever. There is no expectation of severance. But I’m not anticipating we’ll be needing to [forcibly] remove directors. They’ve been very helpful.” 

MS: Know how much are you saving from scrapping the boards? 

Van Uden: “No – because we don’t know what the structure will be. We would anticipate we’re going to save the cost of boards of directors, but we anticipate there are further savings to be made but at this moment I don’t have a firm dollar on it because I don’t know what the structure is going to be.” 

MS: Is this more about cutting costs than improving how things are done? 

Van Uden: “No. I believed right from the start there were efficiencies to be had in our operation one way or the other. I firmly believe, as do the other politicians and [council chief executive] Adam Feeley that we could do this better from the beginning. We’re not forced to do this, we want to do it.” 

MS: Regulatory functions have gone full circle and are back in-house now just as they were before they were contracted out in the late 1990s? 

Van Uden: “Yes, we have. Classic isn’t it.” 

MS: What do you say to criticism the review team looking at staff doesn’t see people, just numbers? 

Van Uden: “I just refute that. All the way through they’ve been aware these are people and these are their lives. 
And we’re not in the business of doing this solely for a numbers game. It’s about delivering better outcomes. It’s about making sure our organisation delivers the best service. They are people making decisions on a daily basis and that needs to be respected and dealt with as best we possibly can.” 

MS: One CCO staffer says if leadership of council had managed things better previously, there’d be no need for this review? 

Van Uden: “That person is entitled to their opinion. I don’t agree with them. From my perspective I’ve worked extremely hard to ensure this council and CCOs improve their service delivery and this is a step along the process.” 

MS: How fearful are you of top brass staff leaving – as predicted by that staffer? 

Van Uden: “That’s one of the very real risks any organisation going through a process of change encounters. Any person is free to make whatever choice they want. All I can say is we’re doing this as best as we can hence the reason we made this decision now rather than protracting it. I sincerely hope that people make the decision to stay and take the opportunities that are offered to them but I can’t hold a gun to their head to make them do that.”