Phil Goff has dissented from a Government working group on Three Waters, saying Auckland loses out

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has said he cannot support the full recommendations of a working group designed to resolve the impasse around the Government’s Three Waters reforms.

In a statement, Goff, said the tweaks proposed by the group, including a small carve-out for Auckland, will not deliver enough accountability for Aucklanders, who would lose effective control over $11 billion worth of Watercare assets.

Goff’s statement said that Auckland’s water, managed by the council-controlled organisation, Watercare, should be left out of the reforms. He said Auckland wants to “retain its current … model”, which he said had “proven to be effective”.

“Given the unique nature of Watercare which serves over a million-and-a-half customers and already has economies of scale and operates effectively, a one-size-fits-all approach does not meet our needs.

“In fact, Auckland has already achieved most of the size, scale and efficiency benefits the reforms are seeking to achieve for New Zealand,” Goff said.

At the end of last year, facing increased pressure from councils over the Government’s plan to take their water assets like pipes and reservoirs and roll them into four giant publicly-owned water companies, Local Government minister Nanaia Mahuta offered councils the opportunity to have input on their concerns through a working group.

Goff was a member of that group, but could not bring himself to support all of its findings.

The biggest change proposed by the group is switching to a shareholder model of ownership, rather than the old model of having councils collectively own a share of the new water companies.

Now, councils will have a shareholding in the new company. Councils will not simply be able to sell their shares if they want to, however: any decision has to be taken unanimously by all council shareholders.

Another fear was that the water entities would be unaccountable to the councils that own them. The entities will be accountable to boards, which will be appointed by a group that is appointed by a panel which will itself be appointed by a group comprising of a mix of people elected by mana whenua and councils.

Councils felt this Russian doll-style structure diluted their control over water services they formerly owned outright.

The group has proposed mechanisms that it says will “achieve tighter accountability from the Water Service Entity boards to the Regional Representative Groups”.

Regional groups will now approve the strategic direction for the entities and the board will be answerable to the regional group and communities for its performance.

This was not enough for Goff, however, who said Auckland would not have enough control over the assets that Aucklanders had paid for.

Goff said despite changes offered by the group, Aucklanders would still have little real control over the $11b worth of water assets they had paid for.

“Auckland is still left as a minority voice on governing and holding accountable those who deliver water services despite Auckland Council providing 93 per cent of the new Water Services Entity’s assets,” Goff said.

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