Review finds Wellington Water not properly reporting spending

3:36 pm on 1 February 2024
A new leak bubbled up through the paving stones behind the Old Bank Arcade in Wellington's city centre, on 11 January, 2024.

A new leak bubbled up through the paving stones behind the Old Bank Arcade in Wellington's city centre, on 11 January, 2024. Photo: RNZ / Jemima Huston

Wellington Water's lax reporting means the water provider cannot clearly show how it is spending ratepayers' money to fix pipes, according to an independent review.

It found the utility was not properly reporting how money was being spent to improve the pipe network, and identified issues with its contracts between Wellington City Council and contractor Fulton Hogan.

Last year Wellington City Council agreed to put an extra $2.3m into its annual budget for the region's water services provider. This was conditional on Wellington Water agreeing to part fund a review by international company FieldForce4 of its services.

Wellington Water is owned by the Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington city councils, South Wairarapa District Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The review team carried out 21 interviews with staff at all the councils, Wellington Water and Fulton Hogan, and analysed more than 90 documents, which included performance reports and costings.

It found contracts between Wellington Water and the city council, and Wellington Water and contractor Fulton Hogan, were not meeting the councils' overall objectives due to a lack of clearly defined reporting requirements and performance measures.

Furthermore, Wellington Water's reporting to the Wellington City Council had failed to accurately reflect how work on the pipe network linked to its associated budgets.

The review found maintenance costs also increased by 71 percent over the last three years.

Recommendations included a review of contract documents, improving contract management and applying KPIs to the contracts between the three organisations.

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau believed the recommendations could help improve the performance of the water network in Wellington.

"It's essential that we ensure Wellington ratepayers' money is going towards actually getting pipes fixed. We put a significant amount of funding into our water infrastructure, and as your mayor I want to be sure this is going exactly where it should be."

Whanau said Wellington City Council was looking forward to working with other shareholding councils, mana whenua and Wellington Water to implement as many of the recommendations as possible.

"Some of these changes will require time and be worked on as part of a new regional model for water delivery."

Asked on Checkpoint if there was talk of commissioners being brought int to sort out the situation, Whanau said there was "absolutely none".

"The minister has since said publicly that hasn't even crossed his mind… As I came in as mayor, I knew this was a big, big complex issue and, and my goodness, it is more so than I thought."

She said it was clear not enough had been invested in the city's water network over decades and it was "coming to a head".

"We have to invest the money and I know that the region is committed to that. But what's also important is how we develop a more sustainable [council-controlled organisation] model because that in essence will help the longer term funding of these pipes."

Wellington City Council chief executive Barbara McKerrow said the council accepted the recommendations.

"With increasing service delivery costs resulting in a growing backlog of leaks, it's important that we support Wellington Water to find efficiencies."

Wellington Water chief executive Tonia Haskell

Tonia Haskell Photo: supplied

Wellington Water chief executive Tonia Haskell said some of the findings and observations in the report were valid, and where possible they had made improvements to the way they work.

"Unfortunately, we cannot address all the findings as we don't have the mandate to agree to these on behalf of our other shareholding councils."

She said the report's findings into the Wellington Water model were not unexpected.

"We've known for a long time that the agreed model we operate with our shareholding councils is not perfect.

"Further investment is needed, not only in the water assets themselves, but also in our systems, processes, and reporting.

"We believe that reform of the water sector remains the best way to achieve the transformational change needed for water services in the region."

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