The Regional Council yesterday finally approved its investment company, which will encompass the Port of Napier and other yet-to-be-invented public assets.
As several Councillors noted, it was an approval “in principle” … meaning that technically the decision can be undone if, once the detail work is completed, Councillors are dissatisified with their creation. As some said, “the devil is in the details.” Several Councillors — Scott, von Dadelszen, Rose — gave their support begrudgingly, each noting earlier and/or lingering concerns. But only Councillor Liz Remmerswaal voted against the company, believing it would engender unacceptable risk to the Council’s portfolio and less public accountability.
Assuming the investment company launches, it represents a creditable victory for Councillor Alan Dick, its original champion, along with steadfast promoter Andrew Newman, the HBRC’s chief executive.
In fact, the only thing that could now de-rail creation of the company would be a bun fight amongst Councillors about the governance structure. Submitters were pretty evenly divided on whether they thought the investment company should proceed or not. And then, among those who thought the company wise (or inevitable), submitters were divided as to whether its governing board should consist mostly (or exclusively) of Councillors, versus mostly (or exclusively) commercially-savvy private sector directors.
My reading is that most of the Councillors believe most of the directors of the company should be drawn from the private sector.
I’ve argued in BayBuzz and in submissions that the directors should be primarily private sector, with one or, at most, two Councillors also on its Board.
As Councillor Neil Kirton pointed out yesterday, the investment company is intended to serve two purposes that are hopefully complementary — improve financial returns from the Council’s assets (for the benefit of ratepayers), and advance strategic goals of the Council with respect to providing needed infrastructure in Hawke’s Bay. While the former purpose requires commercial expertise, the latter requires guidance from the public’s elected representatives. And although the ultimate accountability for the company’s performance still rests with the full Regional Council, the public good is advanced by having one or two Councillors more intimately aware of and involved in the regular workings of the company’s Board. There’s no substitute for ‘being in the room’ when key plans and decisions are being debated and decided.
Chief executive Newman indicated it would take another 2-3 months for the detail work to be completed, so that the company’s final ratification could occur. Assuming all goes to plan, the most likely first sibling to join the Port of Napier in the investment company’s portfolio will be the ‘Waterco’ that would presumptively own the Council’s proposed water storage schemes in Central Hawke’s Bay and elsewhere.
However, Councillor Tim Gilbertson has even greater aspirations for what he calls the Hawke’s Bay Investment Company. He sees it as a muscular company that should eventually own many or all of the publicly-owned assets/companies around the Bay — from Unison, Centralines and Infracon to regional sports and cultural facilities to the port and airport.
In his vision, the investment company should be the economic complement to regional political amalgamation.
Quite a grand vision for an anarchist!