The Regional Council got busy last week, trying to shake years of somnolence. Its watchwords for the next few months will be vigilance and efficiency.
Unfortunately these two themes clashed somewhat at the Council’s meeting on Wednesday.
Let’s take vigilance first.
In a fresh display of official alarm, Councillors caned its own business unit, Venture Hawke’s Bay, for running a budget deficit of $495,000 as the fiscal year ends (VHB’s budget had an approved deficit of $117K). At times during the Council discussion, it wasn’t entirely clear where Councillors were directing their ire … VHB’s exited management, HBRC CEO Andrew Newman to whom the unit reports, or VHB’s advisory board, chaired by the HBRC’s own Neil Kirton.
But whoever’s fault it was, Councillors were angry … so mad that they turned down the CEO’s recommendation that a $250,000 loan be provided to “clear the books” in the current fiscal year and start afresh with a clean slate (the balance would be offset by $250,000 in reserves VHB also carried on its books). Instead there will be another “full report” on what went wrong and why … with heaps more table-thumping to come. And then HBRC will cover the loss.
With VHB making extensive quarterly reports to the full Regional Council for at least the last year, it’s hard to see how this situation evolved. CEO Andrew Newman gives his explanation of the unfolding saga in his briefing memo to the Council (Download here).
By one accounting, the “surprise” in all this is $128,000 ($495K, minus approved $117K, minus $250K reserves) … still a deficit demanding explanation and accountability, but a pimple — you spending watchdogs — compared to, say, nearly $2 million in “odour remediation” at the Hastings wastewater treatment plant.
As for efficiency …
The Council also “received” (that’s Council-speak for “accept staff report, thank staff, go back to sleep”) a report entitled Local Government Shared Services: Present and Potential Collaboration in Hawke’s Bay (Download here).
The two main insights of this paper:
1) No such collaboration would occur unless the various council staffs buy into the idea (now there’s a mystery unraveled!); and,
2) Start small.
Be still my heart! I’m not sure Hawke’s Bay can stand the excitement and turmoil this report is going to generate.
In true inter-Council collaborative fashion, the cover memo to the report noted: “It is understood that both Napier City and Hastings District Councils will also be considering papers on the topic in the near future and ongoing discussions among the Chief Executives will continue.”
So each of the councils is preparing its own paper on collaboration. Isn’t that the problem?!