SPECIAL REPORT: Inside the brave, new world of QLDC quango Lakes Leisure

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Paying for your leisure.

We’re forgetting about why we are here, says councillor Van Uden.

Lakes Leisure burst into being earlier this year, trumpeting the “enhancement” of recreational facilities for the whole com­munity.

Queenstown Lakes District Council extolled the virtues of its newest quango as a one-stop management shop for recreation, arts and other community-owned leisure facilities.

LL’s “key function”, announced QLDC community services boss Paul Wilson when proposing the quango, is the “promotion of affordability for the ratepaying community and the users”.

But as this year’s gone by, LL’s affordability has been questioned by local community groups.

First came an uproar from parents with toddlers keen for a splash in Queenstown’s new $20 million pool, Alpine Aqualand. They were stung $11 all-up for a casual swim.

Then it emerged some sports groups were being charged to use grounds they’d never had to pay to play on before.

And Queenstown Primary’s recently been hit twice – the school now has to pay to use the Recreation Ground and the Memorial Hall for student activities, plus pay LL to cut its grass on their playing fields.

The grass-cutting revelation has shocked councillor Vanessa van Uden – the only civic leader who opposed the formation of LL from the get-go.

“I cannot believe we are charging the primary school [to mow its fields]. That’s just atrocious as far as I’m concerned,” says Van Uden. “We are forgetting about why we are here – about the com­munity organisations.”

Some of these affected sports groups met on Tuesday to discuss taking on LL as a united front.

Van Uden believes LL – officially called a “council-controlled organisation” – is just an unnecessary “layer of bureaucracy”.

“I’m the first person to say that we need to run things efficiently but a board of directors – and having it separate from the council structure – doesn’t necessarily guarantee efficiency.

“And it also doesn’t protect the community outcomes [QLDC] has got a responsibility for delivering.”

LL’s “financial objectives” in a “statement of intent” agreed with QLDC proclaim the quango will “operate in a business-like manner”.

“It will seek to recover its costs from users [including QLDC] of its services,” the document says.

LL’s first annual report for the five months ending June 30 shows total revenue of $1.02m.

The council offshoot has 36 full-time staff paid $1.06m annually – plus boss Fiona McKissick is on $116,539 a year. Five directors on the LL board will get fees totalling $101,600 for the current financial year.

Van Uden: “If we are generating ‘additional revenues’ because we are making groups like the primary school pay for the use of the Rec Ground, is this an out­­come we want? I don’t believe it is.”

She’s not blaming LL staff – rather, she wants QLDC to scrap the CCO model.

“Our council simply needs to say, ‘No, you will not charge’.

“And if that means reviewing policies and ensuring we clearly identify sub­sidies and so on, then that’s what needs to be done and a clear direction given.”

Have you had a Lakes Leisure shocker?Email us at ed@scene.co.nz

‘No middleman waiting to extract profit’

The $116,539-a-year Fiona McKissick heads QLDC quango Lakes Leisure.

Mountain Scene was keen to talk to McKissick by phone on Tuesday – but she wouldn’t answer questions “off the cuff”. McKissick emailed her answers through yesterday after getting them “signed off” by Lakes Leisure board chair Jane Taylor.

Q. New access fees for sports clubs, community groups, pool users, and grass-cutting charges – the commu­nity’s up in arms. How does LL justify all these charges and price hikes?

The facilities that LL manages belong to the community. The bottom line is that there is a cost to these facilities. Having said that, the model heavily subsidises users. The charges for sport fields are set well below 10 per cent of the cost associated with maintaining turf. The prices were set several years ago and have not changed – the difference is they were not consistently passed on to the users.
Any surplus from the community swim school … will be invested in offsetting the overheads of Alpine Aqualand and providing low-cost programmes to the community.

Q. How much did LL’s new website cost?

The new website is the beginning of an interactive community portal. There is an initial outlay of $22,000 to create this website which will provide us with a long-term cost-effective communication tool between LL and the community.

Q. Is LL a money-maker?

No, it is a not-for-profit, council-controlled organisation. The business model was based on Edinburgh Leisure, where the governance of the company is separate from council, allowing the company to make efficiencies in some areas to support others. It can redistribute costs to make community-based use affordable. There’s no middleman, no commercial operator wanting to extract a profit from the community.

Q. In its statement of intent, LL objectives are set to make access to facilities as affordable as possible to community and users. Is LL doing this?

Yes. The company and its board are completely focused on ensuring we deliver the best value for our communities. Our new fee structure, which will be completed next year, is about heavily subsidising some low-cost programmes for the community.

Q. Are you paid a bonus according to profit?

Absolutely not. There is no profit-based remuneration.

Pay up, says quango

Parents and toddlers at Alpine Aqualand

There are still pricing problems at the new pool for parents with babies keen for a splash. In May outraged parents sent around an email petition complaining about “exorbitant” charges – $11 a swim – for a parent and child.

A Queenstown dad, who doesn’t want to be named, says he’s sick of being charged something different each time he goes to the pool with his 18-month-old daughter.

He can’t make the $6 “Toddler Time” slot and objects to paying $8 for himself when he barely gets his head wet. “As a ratepayer, you’re paying for that pool and you should be entitled to some sort of rebate or benefit from it – but you get nothing.”

Wakatipu Rugby Club

Had a deal with QLDC to train free at the Events Centre in exchange for council ownership of the training lights – this wound up last year and now the club has to pay ground fees.

It leases Recreation Ground space on which its clubrooms sit but past-president John Mansfield says LL’s “indicated” the club may have to pay to use the playing field and for marking it out. “I think [LL] should be covering costs as opposed to it being a money-making venture for them.”

Queenstown Primary

Mountain Scene revealed last month that the cash-strapped school was forced to pay so-called “community rates” for the use of the Rec Ground and Memorial Hall for student events. LL’s also demanding $3000-$4000 a year for grass-cutting – despite extensive public use of school grounds.