14 Sep 2013

Christchurch failings not widespread - LGNZ

8:47 pm on 14 September 2013

The head of Local Government New Zealand says structural failings identified in a report into Christchurch City Council are not widespread.

Council chief executive Tony Marryatt resigned on Friday after accepting responsibility for the loss of the council's accreditation to issue building consents.

Tony Marryatt.

Tony Marryatt. Photo: RNZ

An investigation by former LGNZ chief executive Peter Winder found the council to be a hierarchical organisation where departments operated within tight silos, with staff referring upwards to their immediate manager who failed to pass on the information.

Mr Yule says the problems affecting the Christchurch council do exist elsewhere but are not common.

He says a new generation of chief executives who are well-trained and well educated are replacing an older one.

"They have a far broader set of skills, because being a chief executive in the local government sector is now considered quite a good job. Years ago I'm not sure it was and it was limited to quite a narrow range of people."

Mr Yule says there had been concern for years about the Christchurch Council's structural set up.

Multiple problems identified

The independent report into Mr Marryatt identified multiple problems in the council resulting in the loss of the right to issue building consents.

The council ordered the review in July to investigate possible failures by Mr Marryatt.

The report found there were many long-standing systematic failures which led to the loss of accreditation. But, it said, Mr Marryatt must accept some responsibility given his position.

Mr Marryatt said he was not made aware of the consenting problems until May. The report said it was it was too late to fix the problems when the council became aware of them but if Mr Marryatt had pursued the issues in May, a key part of the damage done to the council's reputation would have been significantly reduced.

The report also said he must have been aware of the challenges of implementing a new IT system, which was a major contributing factor to the loss of accreditation.

It also cited a lack of effective project management, inadequate resourcing and a silo mentality in council departments, with staff referring problems to their immediate managers who failed to pass on the information.

The report said identifying the gravity of the situation could have been as simple as Mr Marryatt making a call to the accreditation body and asking what was going on.

If Mr Marryatt had passed on a full and realistic assessment of the council's position to councillors, neither mayor Bob Parker nor councillor Sue Wells would have been put in the position of telling the public that things would be resolved, only to then have the accreditation revoked.

The report further stated if council had good business practices and adequate management systems in place, it would still be an accredited building consent authority.

Earthquake pressures

The report notes that the failures need to be seen in the light of the pressure that the organisation was under following the earthquakes.

It said Mr Marryatt did not accept the failings are a result of incompetence, negligence or carelessness on his part, rather that he saw them as a consequence of the unprecedented challenges faced by the council and the need for him to prioritise efforts on other matters.

The report concluded there was no single act of negligence identified with Mr Marryatt.