Protecting Christchurch’s assets

All 2021 candidates and I have made a public commitment to the people of Christchurch that their assets will be in safe hands if a strong 2021 team is elected in the 2007 elections. We have pledged that if elected we will “support keeping all significant public assets and services of the citizens of Christchurch in public ownership and control, accessible to public scrutiny, and having a primary purpose of serving the needs of our community, and our economic, social and natural environment”.

Christchurch people rightly feel a sense of pride that they steadfastly, and against the tide, retained their assets. I intend to represent this tradition as Mayor. These assets have been built up over many generations and belong to us all, and our children and their children. We will not be flogging off our port, or our airport, or our electricity network, or our bus company, or any other significant asset.

Over the last term, the present council, dominated by non-aligned and independent councillors, attempted:

  • to sell the operational arm of the Lyttelton Port Company to off-shore interests
  • to remove the Red Bus Company and City Care from the list of protected assets
  • to water-down the protection of the assets afforded to them under the Local Government Act.

The attempts to sell assets in the last term were without a mandate – not one of the councillors who sought to sell assets told voters this prior to being elected. The real owners of these assets, the people of Christchurch, were shut out of the decision making process. In this year’s election, voters have a right to know what candidates plan to do with their family silver. I challenge others seeking election to publicly state their policy on this issue. Their words should be consistent with their voting record.

There are economic benefits from retaining assets. The income stream from publicly owned companies contributes over $30 million a year to the Council’s coffers. This helps to keep our rates down by 15% plus each year. Returns of capital and special dividends to the Council of over $450 million over the last eleven years have provided money for Council to fund other projects. If we sell these assets this money will need to come from somewhere – and that will be the ratepayer.

There are also social and community benefits to retaining assets. Sale of our significant assets may lead to increased charges (in the case of city housing, market rents) and with many of the trading organisations, loss of employment security. We only need to look at the mass unemployment created in the 1980s by the sale of national treasures such as the railways and the post office for proof of this.

The 2021 team and I are concerned about the establishment of ‘shelf companies’ without any clear purpose being stated. Although shelf companies can play a role in managing the city’s assets and that there can be issues of commercial sensitivity to be navigated, in this term of council there has not been sufficient transparency. There is significant public anxiety around the existence of these companies. This is not surprising given the current Council’s departure from a commitment to protect our assets. 2021 will only support the establishment of shelf companies where there is a clear purpose, consistent with the protection and enhancement of the city’s assets.