This might make me sound like the old geezer in the back garden, but it’s time for a lecture to both the elected reps on CCC and the Board and staff of CCHL
CCHL was created at a time when neo-liberal economics was top of the heap. The Business Roundtable was sweeping through NZ gobbling up companies left right and centre. Guys like Ron Brierley were making a fortune. Because the private sector ‘knew how to run things’.
On the top of the purchase list were assets owned by Local Government. Many Councils took their thirty pieces of silver from the money merchants and often squandered its elsewhere. Generations had built up these assets and one generation had wasted them.
An example would be how Wellington Airport was partially sold to Infratil. Isn’t it interesting to see how Infratil has recently fought off a takeover bid for control of their company? What is to stop a Chinese company making a higher offer and ending up with control of the airport in the Capital of this country?
Christchurch City Council did not go down this route. We put our shares into a holding company CCHL. The Company had 4 members of the Council on it and 4 independent directors.
When I became Mayor, I came to realise the lobbying power of Roger Kerr and the Business Roundtable. They had turned lobbying into an art form. They hated Christchurch and our independent approach to our affairs. The sooner we rediscover this independence the better.
They called us names. Like “The People’s Republic of Christchurch”. We wore this label with pride.
One thing I always stressed to elected reps that they could not influence the activities of any of the CCHL companies through the media. If they interfered, they wore my wrath. Each quarter the Chair of CCHL sat with the Councillors and went through each of the companies and took them through what they were doing and briefly took them through any proposed changes. These meetings were for information and feedback. We handled them very carefully.
Once a year CCHL has a publicly open AGM. That is the time when issues can be raised from the floor.
During my time as Mayor CCHL grew financially, and in the eyes of the community. When I started the business community were wary of becoming Directors as they did not trust politicians to not interfere with the companies. By the time I left they were lining up to become Directors.
The way Councillors are behaving right now this special confidence could be being eroded.
For the last AGM of CCHL I gave notice that I wished to raise a matter which I felt was of value to the future of this City. I was informed that the Chair did not want me to raise this matter. I decided not to attend the public meeting.
I have observed how CCHL board has handled the matter I was interested in subsequently with interest. In my opinion they have applied only a commercial lens, not how to use the Balance Sheet of this publicly owned asset for the benefit of this Cities future economic prosperity. The person who wrote the report which the Board acted on has no background in the sector he was writing about.
I was the CCHL Board member who promoted Enable and it was subsequently introduced into the CCHL stable. I’m not confident that the current CCHL executive, or Board would approve this sort of investment now. Enable is now worth around $600m.
I think CCC and CCHL have now ended up in a bad place. Undisciplined Councillors are rushing off to the papers commenting on company decisions. This undermines both the trading companies and the ability of CCC to have any influence on the companies. Good directors will run for cover because most of the comments are just fatuous and for political gains.
I am also disappointed by CCHL’s performance. I think we have got to the stage of a very conservative executive, and a Board chaired by an equally conservative chair. I could be wrong, but the organisation seems very remote now. That could be causing the Councillors to object publicly.
I do wonder if the CCHL executive and Board have forgotten they are publicly owned.
Right now, we are at a crossroad which I hoped we would never experience in this City. We have an undisciplined Council table and a remote CCHL board and executive. CCHL is a taonga owned by all citizens of this great city. It might be time for a review of how everybody is behaving. Please Councillors don’t be driven by some half-arsed academic who seems to be interviewed by the Press from time to time as per the Stuff article below. Remember this man was unsuccessful in getting elected to that major city where I was born, Palmerston North, twice. I personally apply a 99% discount factor to anything he says.
Here’s the article which sparked me off about CCHL and our publicly owned assets. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/local-government/300308760/local-councils-cant-wash-their-hands-of-what-their-companies-do–expert.