29 Jan 2019

Former KiwiBuild boss Stephen Barclay: 'They've gone back to 300, I don't know how'

11:35 am on 29 January 2019

As Cabinet ministers prepare to discuss the troubled KiwiBuild programme, the former head of the programme says his team was on target because they focused on targets, "not building a new ministry".

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Stephen Barclay says his team was on target to meet the 1000 house goal while he was in charge. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

Cabinet ministers are meeting for the first time this year with the KiwiBuild programme high on the agenda.

The flagship scheme has dogged the government in recent weeks after Housing Minister Phil Twyford admitted it would fall short of its first year target.

Soon after, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said ministers would recommit themselves to getting KiwiBuild "back on track" at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.

But a public clash between KiwiBuild's former boss Stephen Barclay and the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) is threatening to derail efforts.

Mr Barclay yesterday revealed he was taking legal action against the ministry and said KiwiBuild had been on track to meet the 1000 house goal while he was in charge.

He told Morning Report he had been on course to achieve the goal of having 1000 new houses in the year to June, when he was forced to take leave in November.

"By the time I was put on gardening leave at the end of October, early November four months into the year we were on target to meet those targets," he said.

"I cannot understand why ... the number now is 300. That's half of what I thought the number was that we'd already achieved - not the end of year target but what we'd already achieved in terms of commitments by the sector to deliver by the end of October.

"Now they've gone back to 300, I don't know how they could do that."

He said it seemed the wheels fell off when the new ministry headed by Andrew Crisp started up.

"I suppose that's where the wheels started to fall off between him and I - the team and I were focused on delivering the targets, we weren't focused on trying to establish his new ministry.

"That was a pretty simple strategy because we knew that if we didn't make the targets, the minister and ourselves would be the subject of serious scrutiny, so that's where our efforts went.

"If you're implementing a high profile project such as this with very hard targets that have to be delivered in short order, you need to make decisions and if you do that then you've got to recognise that not all of your decisions are going to be the right one so you've got to move forward, adjust your strategy and keep going on.

"That sort of style, I would suggest to you, is a little bit different to living inside a ministry with all the management processes and protocols of a ministry. Prior to going into [MHUD], KiwiBuild was set up as a standalone unit outside the MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) governance or management structures.

"A business unit that's already been set up - that's off and running to a tough timetable etc. - and all of a sudden there's these processes and decision making and meeting forums and all that sort of stuff stuck around it."

"Just before he took over, Andrew and I met. He made it very clear that he didn't want the KiwiBuild unit to be a standalone business as it was when it was set up with MBIE. I'm not sure why but that's what he wanted to do."

Mr Crisp earlier issued a statement, stating that Mr Barclay's absence from work late last year was due to an investigation into complaints from staff and stakeholders about his "leadership behaviour".

He said Mr Barclay had resigned in January before the investigation had concluded and did not receive an exit pay out or confidential deal.

But in a statement from a PR agency, Mr Barclay said he was now pursuing "a case of constructive dismissal" - meaning he'd felt he'd had no choice but to resign.

Mr Barclay said a series of complaints against him were presented suddenly when MHUD took over the programme.

"There had been no complaints issued against me, nothing like that, in fact the opposite - my understanding was my performance was going well, we were looking like we were on target to achieve the numbers, all that sort of stuff," he said.

"When I was presented with the complaints there had been no discussion with me about them beforehand, it was just basically, you know, 'here they are, documented, a bunch of complaints as received within two weeks of the new ministry being stood up on the first of October.

"At the time I resigned ... I'd been effectively muzzled from saying anything."

With court action pending, Mr Barclay said he couldn't speak about exactly what the complaints were but could rule out some things.

"I can confirm that the complaints were generally related to my management style and also my direct dealings with a couple of people - two or three people - inside the KiwiBuild unit.

"I can rule out things like financial fraud, I can rule out things like sexual misconduct and I can also rule out bullying.

"They are absolutely about my style of getting answers, moving forward, making decisions, expecting people to have opinions, giving the minister information so he can make decisions - not necessarily the information that he wants to get."

Mr Barclay accepted there had been a "small number" of complaints about his "direct management style" but said they came from people who held a close relationship with Mr Crisp.

He had asked that the complaints be independently investigated but was instead suspended for more than two months, he said.

"This made his position untenable and led him to resign in his and the KiwiBuild programme's best interests."

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has also weighed in, saying he was "satisfied" with the way Mr Crisp had managed the employment matter.

"His actions are consistent with what I would expect of a public service chief executive," Mr Hughes said in a statement.

"I am acquainted with the facts of this case and they do not support a number of statements in the media release issued by Mr Barclay's public relations company".

Since mid-November, the KiwiBuild unit has been run by a member of MHUD's leadership team, Brad Ward.

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