Christchurch City Council chief financial officer resigns

3:30 pm on 24 November 2023
Protesters left chalk messages outside Christchurch City Council.

Protesters left chalk messages outside Christchurch City Council. Photo: RNZ

Another member of Christchurch City Council's executive leadership team has resigned, on the same day a damning report into its Three Waters department was made public.

The council announced the resignation of chief financial officer Leah Scales, who also held the position of general manager of resources, on Friday.

Scales had requested not to work her notice period and would not return to work following the end of her sick leave, it said in a statement.

It was the latest in a string of high-profile resignations at the council, with chief executive Dawn Baxendale also tendering her resignation this week.

It also comes as an independent report by consultancy KPMG found the council's Three Waters department had dozens of positions more than budgeted for, racking up millions in additional costs.

There has been $6.5m spent on staffing roles over the allocated budget in the department since July 2019.

"We identified 26 roles that had been created either without budget, without any available documentation, or with an approval process that either did not meet council's expectations or went ahead against the wishes of council," the report said.

Eight positions had no approval documentation and budget, 15 were approved but without available budget, and a further three positions did not follow the required approval process.

The report detailed instances of people being recruited into positions that were supposed to have been disestablished, no record of executive approval for roles and missing or deleted employment documents.

It was especially critical of the department's record-keeping.

"Decisions around the creation of roles that are ultimately funded through rates, should have been better documented. The Public Records Act requires local government bodies to ensure full and accurate records of its affairs are created and maintained.

"Failing to record these decisions is in our view, is a failure of Three Waters Management."

Managers in the unit did not recognise that roles exceeded budget or if they did, no effective action appeared to have been taken for years, the report said.

Exact details had been heavily redacted, as had the names of most of the employees interviewed for the report.

"We have sought explanation from various council staff as to firstly, how these discrepancies could occur; and secondly, how they could occur and not be identified, but we have not been provided with a conclusive answer."

The report found there were several contributing factors.

The turnover rate of staff, "a lack of preventative controls, poor advice from Finance and Human Resources (incorporating People & Culture) and poor record keeping," the latter three, it pointed out, were all issues the council could address.

The council's Finance and Human Resource team "would often accept the information provided, without completing any independent due diligence", the report continued.

One of the people interviewed by KPMG staff for the report also said "the poor quality of the Three Waters financial reports was similar to that provided to other council departments."

Of the 11 controls the council had for its recruitment process, the report deemed just one to be effective. It recommended the council review the effectiveness of its controls and consider strengthening them where required.

The report also said it should work out why human resources and finance records do not align, better educate staff in correct processes and improve record keeping and documentation of decisions.

KPMG staff reviewed the council's own internal report, went through email files, dozens of documents and interviewed several current and former council employees to complete the report.

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