West Coast council criticised by Auditor General on long-term plan lateness

2:46 pm on 28 July 2022

The West Coast Regional Council has been criticised by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) after an audit of the 2021-31 long-term plan.

Google Maps image of the West Coast Regional Council.

Photo: Google Maps

Of 12 councils that adopted their long-term plans late, the West Coast Regional Council and McKenzie District Council were singled out in a report released this week for adopting their audited long-term plans more than three months after the statutory deadline.

"Even allowing for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we consider this delay in providing those two communities with a long-term plan is unacceptable," the OAG said.

Council decision-making had been compromised as a result.

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In particular, the ability of both councils to levy rates was delayed because they were unable to set the rates for 2021-22 until they had adopted their long-term plans.

Chief executive Heather Mabin said council management accepted the criticism.

"They're fully correct. We were very late."

The late adoption of the 2020 annual report in May last year had in turn affected the council's ability to prepare the financials for the long-term plan process, Mabin said.

That had a "domino effect" of delay, which the council had been working to rectify over the past year so the workload could get "back into sync" with deadlines.

In the midst of that there had also been significant key council staff changes in the finance and corporate area.

Since being appointed chief executive later in 2021, one initiative Mabin had introduced to better manage planning and workload was a risk management policy across the organisation. For instance, informing councillors of the risk of not meeting statutory deadlines.

The Westport flood events had affected the council's workload "hugely" to incorporate a flood scheme through the long-term plan in the later part of 2021, she said.

Since then council had been asked to co-ordinate a broader Westport business case this year, while continuing the Te Tai o Poutini Plan combined West Coast councils long term plan drafting, and it was in the midst of preparing four other heavy infrastructure projects at Franz Josef, Hokitika, Greymouth and possibly Hari Hari.

"It is once again a massive year."

Regional council chairman Allan Birchfield was dismissive of the OAG criticism.

"It just seems like bloody overpaid bureaucrats going on. We just get on with it. I wouldn't be too concerned."

He acknowledged the council had gone through significant upheaval in 2020-21, and there had been "disruption", and "issues" internally. That had included "three or four" chief executives in the past few years, but the council was now on a more stable path, he said.

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