New chief executive comes 'with an open mind'

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2012
Kevin Lavery
New Wellington City Council chief executive Kevin Lavery.

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Wellington City Council's new chief executive has defended the privatisation of council services that he oversaw in England, but says the capital is in a better financial position.

Speaking from Cornwall in his first interview with New Zealand media, Kevin Lavery said he was coming to Wellington with an "open mind".

"I just want to add to what [departing chief executive Garry Poole] has done," Dr Lavery said.

Dr Lavery, an Englishman of Irish descent, said criticism of his outsourcing council services during his four years as Cornwall Council chief executive was "unfair".

The small amount of outsourcing he had done - in the council's IT department and amalgamating back offices of three health providers and the council - was driven by a 35 per cent drop in central government funding, - $1 billion over four years.

"It's not me trying to be theological about outsourcing. If I was ideological about it I would have done it four years ago."

Since his appointment in Wellington was revealed by The Dominion Post earlier this month, Dr Lavery has been described as a "Marmite" bureaucrat, because people either loved or loathed him for the decisions he had made as head of the council.

"What people in Wellington need to understand is the UK has gone through a massive financial squeeze . . . We have had to make some really, really hard decisions. I make no apologies for doing that."

Compared to England, Wellington was in a "great position to grow" and free of most of the financial strain that had forced privatisation in Cornwall, he said.

Wellington's council was helped by being largely funded by local ratepayers, rather than the large central government subsidies English councils got - and lost much of.

Dr Lavery has also been praised for overseeing the transition from a county council overseeing six district councils into a single authority with 123 councillors.

He acknowledged that this experience was probably a factor in his appointment in Wellington, which is considering different forms of local government, including possible amalgamation.

But he said that was not the reason he was appointed, and he did not necessarily back amalgamation.

"For me, Wellington is big enough to pack a big enough punch without amalgamation."

However, if amalgamation were decided on, he had the skills to make it successful, he said.

Dr Lavery, who has been appointed for five years in Wellington with an annual salary package of $400,000, confirmed the council paid for his trip to Wellington for the job interview on December 17.

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The council had also agreed to provide a relocation package to move his family, including travel, relocation, and legal costs. Details were yet to be finalised. Dr Lavery would not disclose relocation costs, nor the cost of his flights.

He said the council would not pay for trips home to England.

The Laverys would initially rent a home in Wellington but would look to buy.

Dr Lavery said he, his wife Catherine, and sons Daniel, 12, and Jack, 10, would eventually be applying for New Zealand citizenship.

"I'm really looking forward to the sports scene," he said, adding that Cornwall was a British rugby "hotbed".

Asked whether he would switch affiliations to the All Blacks he replied: "Absolutely. Why not?"

Daniel was already a big rugby fan and would be enrolling in a Wellington high school. Jack was interested in hockey, fencing, and football.

Dr Lavery said he was neither Left nor Right wing. "I see my job to make sure we run the place professionally and manage it well."

- The Dominion Post

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