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Three Waters consultant faces question time at KDC meeting



8 Aug, 2022



Three Waters was once more a talking point at the recent August 3 Kaipara District Council meeting, with a top executive facing a wave of incisive questions from the elected, when he dropped in via zoom to talk through the transition process of the divisive reforms.

Watercare Auckland’s current deputy chief executive, Marlon Bridge, is on secondment to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) as Three Waters (3W) National Transition Unit acting director. Highly experienced with over 25 years in senior management across both private and public sectors, Bridge’s role is to coordinate the delivery of the controversial program, set to take over on July 2024, with the aim of ‘getting all resources in play’.

“We currently have a detailed business case in front of Parliament for the delivery of the core program systems which includes the financial, billing and customer and asset management systems as well as payroll, to start operations on day one of the transition,” Bridge says. “It’s really important we have a good enough chance of standing these systems up as soon as possible to give them the greatest chance of success.”

As well as summarising key areas of the program such as asset management plans, emergency frameworks, council debt profiles and assets, Bridge says a 3W ‘Day One Outcomes Plan’ road map tour is scheduled for late August, to visit chief executives (CE) and key personnel before becoming available to the wider public, ‘we’re looking forward to coming out to the regions to host that’.


Transition guidelines
Appointment of CEs, establishment of boards, iwi involvement as well as training for people entering the new four water service entities (Auckland/Northland Entity A) were also outlined. Kaipara council staff transition guidelines have already been issued with the objective ‘to give everyone comfort that the process we’re undertaking is open and transparent and meets the needs of all concerned’.

“By March 2023 the ultimate goal is that every employee who is transitioning to the entities will have a clear line of sight to their options and training available, to get them

to day one successfully. This is a real key milestone for us that everyone gets comfort over the role they will have in the new water services.”

Localism and representation are also significant factors Bridge says, ‘which I know a lot of people are interested in’.

“We’re still working through the regional process of representation and what that means, and in the procurement space, we’re really looking to ensure that localism is a key aspect delivered with these entities.” he says. “We’re specifically focused on making sure regions grow and contractors and suppliers who currently are being used, will in fact enhance their capability to do more.”


Council concerns
Besides raising a question about Bridges’ potential conflict of interest between his roles in Watercare and DIA, Kaipara councillor Victoria del la Varis-Woodcock asked how contracting top officials for 3W ‘align with proper democratic process’.

“The Finance and Expenditure Select Committee appointed to hear the opinion of New Zealanders has not yet began, so surely it is pre-emptory unlawful to procure positions and contracts for entities that have not been instituted and therefore do not exist.”

In reply, Bridge says he assumes the DIA have followed due process, however will confirm ‘the legal or unlawful claim so I can present to you the right facts’.

“In regards to conflict of interest, I’m not representing Watercare, any viewpoints or political bias. I’m just happy to use my years of senior executive level experience and skills in the best interest of New Zealanders, to help deliver a good outcome.”

In answer to deputy mayor Anna Curnow’s enquiry about the security of the ‘highly complex transaction’ of Kaipara’s debt, Bridge says he is willing to work with the council ‘to provide certainty at any time’.

“All waste and storm water debt will transfer through to the new entities, I’ve had many conversations with councils and there are no hard and fast rules, every council is different, so how it transfers over is specific to each local body.”

Cr David Wills sought clarity and surety regarding accuracy of financial forecasts and Watercare’s pricing: ‘Do we end up carrying the load for Auckland’s wastewater?’ Bridge attested while there has been talk about holding and decreasing pricing, there has been none regarding any increases.

“There is an expectation that Kaipara will be a benefactor of this process. I can’t confirm exact numbers… but in regards to Mangawhai, I expect to see decreases as a result of an Entity A amalgamation.”


Public engagement
Regarding the widely held negative sentiment towards Three Waters, Cr Jonathan Larsen asked how the DIA proposed to manage tax-payers’ buy-in to the reforms given the huge amount of social unrest.

“People hate to be dictated to and mandated without proper consultation… if they don’t feel they have any democratic say in this, you’re not going to get them on board.”

While saying he is not a communications expert, ‘I know how to deliver things that people will see value in, in the long term,’ Bridge admitted ‘we need to do better with our communication’.

“The first step for this is the coming release of the new Three Waters website which has been lost in the DIA site making it difficult to find, and has relevant facts about the reform process. It’s a little step but an important one to start becoming more transparent,” Bridge says. “We’re not looking to drive this completely-controlled process all the way, you’ll see the regions start to take ownership of the models as they evolve.”


Northland’s voice
With Northland merging with Auckland under the 3W reform as Entity A, which will see Kaipara’s water asset ownership shrink from 100 percent to only 1 percent, mayor Dr Jason Smith expressed concern about the process not having equity especially when only a 75 percent super-majority is needed in the decision-making ‘statement of strategic expectation’.

“One of the challenges here is that if Auckland and iwi have their say, that is the seventy-five percent, the three Northland councils could be absolutely excluded from having any of their wishes included,” he says. “However, ninety percent would give Northland a voice.”

Bridge says he understood the concern and says legally the constitution for the entities has not yet been developed.

“There is still a process to go through to identity the constitution, so it is still possible to address this concern. While the constitutions are being set up, we’ll make sure all voices are heard through this process,” he says. “While I acknowledge there needs to be a unified voice, the biggest concern for water services is making sure water compliance is met… which means I expect there will be substantial investment in Northland. There are mechanisms to ensure Kaipara will be a benefactor in what is coming with the water reforms.”

Smith also noted that Bridge had been all over the country and to the Far North region twice, ‘so right over Kaipara which is part of our story’, and appreciated his offer to return.

“The people who we represent are mostly not connected to the services, with only fifty-four percent on reticulated wastewater and twenty-five percent on reticulated drinking water,” he says. “Transparency and community confidence in this process through their council is important, so it will be wonderful to have a dedicated briefing session which our constituents can watch as we go through the financing and transfer of debt and other details, so we can get answers for the people of Kaipara.”


n Further debate continued with a later issue at the meeting regarding the Three Waters Reform Package. To tune in to Kaipara District Council meetings, visit the KDC YouTube channel or kaipara.govt.nz


Ongoing council and public scrutiny mean a multitude of questions and suspicions still surround the inevitable rolling out of the Three waters reforms.


Three Waters National Transition Unit acting director, highly-experienced senior executive Marlon Bridge, part of the team responsible for delivering government’s contentious reform programme: ‘There is an expectation that Kaipara will be a benefactor of this process’.


thumbnail J Larsen Photo-91“People hate to be dictated to and mandated without proper consultation… if they don’t feel they have any democratic say in this, you’re not going to get them on board.”

- Cr Jonathan Larsen


thumbnail 15 MF-KDC and Bridge“While I acknowledge there needs to be a unified voice, the biggest concern for water services is making sure water compliance is met.”

- Marlon Bridge

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