Plunket amalgamation taking buildings away from community ownership

Locals leave the Culverden Plunket building.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Locals leave the Culverden Plunket building.

An amalgamation of Plunket is transferring millions of dollars of property away from community ownership.

The well-child organisation, which prides itself on being "community-owned and governed", has already increased its national assets by $17 million after dissolving eight of its 18 community branches.

The move is creating rifts with communities.

Daniel Drummond, 3, enjoys play time with his sister Sophie, 7, at the Culverden Plunket room.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Daniel Drummond, 3, enjoys play time with his sister Sophie, 7, at the Culverden Plunket room.

Two branches of the Hurunui area, Culverden and Waiau, say the towns have lost all trust in Plunket after a constitution was changed and its locally-fundraised buildings could be signed over without its knowledge in May.

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Plunket chief executive Amanda Malu said it "could probably do better" through the integration process, but believed the buildings were always Plunket-owned.

Brona Youngman enjoys play time with her daughter Abby Youngman, 3, at the Culverden Plunket room.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Brona Youngman enjoys play time with her daughter Abby Youngman, 3, at the Culverden Plunket room.

"The fundraising and donations were all made under the auspices of Plunket."

She denied it purposely deceived the branches, saying there were no signatories holding office at the time of the ownership transfer. The Hurunui area also voted to be amalgamated.

"We're not interested in getting into battles with communities."

Local children play in the front yard at the Culverden Plunket site.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Local children play in the front yard at the Culverden Plunket site.

The charity voted at its AGM in November to dissolve its local area societies and take control of services, assets and funds under one national organisation.

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It could not provide a definite figure on how many buildings it would eventually own, but said there were more than 400 Plunket buildings – some of which it leased – with a total rateable value of $30m to $38m.

Eight areas have already been dissolved – Northland, Waitemata, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Lakes, Manawatu and Whanganui, Wellington and Wairarapa, and West Coast – and another 10 will be disestablished this year.

Culverden and Waiau Plunket vice president Jess Davison agreed the organisation needed to nationalise and improve its clinical services, but it did not need to own buildings to do so.

"Their approach has been quite sneaky.

"The horse has bolted, we will never trust [Plunket] after how they acquired our land and buildings."

Plunket's Culverden building may be taken away from local ownership.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Plunket's Culverden building may be taken away from local ownership.

Plunket had never contributed towards maintenance or upkeep of the towns' two buildings, and locals were outraged the national group was claiming ownership.

Volunteer mums and dads "do it all ourselves" – gardening, lawn-mowing, and repairs, Davison said.

More than 80 "passionate" residents attended a meeting to confront Plunket management on March 7.

"The land was gifted to the community, not to [Plunket]," she said.

Land in Waiau was donated by the Davies family, and in Culverden by the Maxwell family in the baby-booming 1950s.

In a supporting letter to the branch, the surviving Maxwell children said their parents, Minnie and Sam, had a vision for the land and building to be retained by Culverden residents – the community that paid for and built it.

Davison, who has a background in social work, said local volunteers were a support network for mums when national Plunket failed to offer the raft of services it did in main centres.

It was so "out of touch" it told volunteers they had a chance to voice concerns at the November AGM – just days after the magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck near Waiau.

The communities would be "relentless" until their buildings were signed over to a combined local trust created 25 years ago.

Hurunui District councillor Dick Davison said Plunket's change in constitution and ownership was "less than transparent".

"It's not ethical and it certainly didn't involve local community.

"You wouldn't expect that to happen from an organisation like Plunket."

Other towns like Cheviot had Plunket operating out of community-owned buildings, he said.

Malu said it was not in the best interests of Plunket services to "splinter off assets", and it had no plans to sell off the properties.

"Any decision to alter or sell a property must involve consultation with the group in that community and can't happen without them involved."

Any cash funds belonging to regions – like $16,000 and $10,000 held by Culverden and Waiau respectively – would be ring-fenced for their continued use.

Ensuring its properties were well-maintained so families had access to services no matter where they lived was the "primary driver" behind the decision to consolidate.

"Plunket is a New Zealand icon and we want it to be that way in the future."

 - Stuff

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