A ‘lone’ Waipā councillor voice in favour of Three Waters reform has criticised government’s public relations in selling the radical water changes.
Cr Andrew Brown, who chairs the Finance and Corporate committee, said he wanted to see water services delivered at the most efficient and cost effective manner.
He suggested Communities For Local Democracy, an advocacy group made up of 31 councils including Waipā, had missed the point in their opposition.
“They don’t believe it will be more efficient, but I think they’re wrong.”
Brown said even he doubted the Three Waters plan and was “almost convinced” to oppose it when the government responded to criticism with a series of “ridiculous ads on TV.”
Speaking to councillors at the Waipā District Council meeting on Tuesday during discussion of the council’s submission on the Water Services Entities Bill, Brown said he disagreed with the council’s view that the bill would lead to poorer outcomes for the community.
“I don’t believe that to be the case. What I don’t get is how we can expect to operate our three waters more effectively than a substantial corporation that is well governed and well run.
“And the one thing I will say about local government is we have got pretty good at creating entities that are well governed and well run and provide really good outcomes for our communities,” said Brown.
He and Cr Marcus Gower were the only councillors to vote against the council submission which mayor Jim Mylchreest will present to Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure committee.
The bill would see responsibility for three waters – fresh, storm and waste – taken from local authorities and handed over to four publicly owned organisations governed by independent boards. It is due for its final reading in November.
Advertisements for the four chief executives appeared in weekend newspapers across New Zealand.
In its submission, Waipā has asked for the bill to be withdrawn and for government to work alongside local government to design a “more effective model, with better outcomes for the whole community.”
Brown has long argued in favour of Three Waters and while he is clearly at odds with his fellow councillors, except for Gower, there was a begrudging respect for what he said.
“Differing points of view, it’s great we can have that,” said Mylchreest.
“I absolutely support your right to have that perspective. My feelings haven’t changed at all.
“To say I totally disagree would be an understatement for the vast majority of it. I don’t see it is a proven model that will deliver what it claims.”
Brown said local government had created well governed entities that provided good outcomes for communities.
He gave the example of the Local Government Funding Agency which provides diversified financing sources and saved councils “literally tens of millions of dollars.”
Businesses co-owned by Waipā also performed well, he said.
That included Waikato Regional Airport, which Brown described as a “well run business” operating outside the political machinations that would disrupt similar businesses.
And since 2005, Waikato Local Authority Shared Services (now trading as CoLab) has provided Waipā and 11 other local authorities with a vehicle to reduce costs by driving collaboration, particularly in procurement.
Its Water Services arm provides nine local authorities with several services including sampling and analysis of waste, wastewater, landfill and trade waste sites.
Closer to home, Go Waipa runs the council’s swimming pools with business skills and a passion for the community.
“I’m not saying we haven’t done well with our water services to this point. We can pat ourselves on the back. When you look around this table, who genuinely has got the skill set to run a water business competently? I would say none of us,” said Brown.
The government’s model would see four skill-based boards each with six iwi reps and six from local authorities who would appoint CEOs and management teams would result in a “really effective” waters business.
“We can do that, we can create that organisation,” said Brown.