Concerns raised on Cera's expertise

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2014

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A Parliamentary select committee, dominated by Government MPs, is concerned that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) does not have the "necessary expertise" to lead the next stage of Christchurch's recovery.

The finance and expenditure committee is worried that Cera may struggle to recruit and retain key staff as its workload grows before it winds up in April 2016.

The committee, chaired by National list MP Paul Goldsmith, also wants officials to begin planning for a post-Cera environment from April 2016.

Both Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Cera chief executive Roger Sutton admit there are challenges ahead, but rejected concerns that it could not handle the $40 billion rebuild. Brownlee said the committee's observation was "not at all unexpected".

In its paper on Cera's 2012-13 financial review, the committee questioned whether the authority could co-ordinate the next stage of the recovery and avoid bottlenecks "as rebuilding will inevitably place pressure on available resources".

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said it was clear that Cera was struggling to find good staff.

"It is a big worry. If we haven't got the right people attracted to Cera, then we won't have the right people to do the job," Dyson said.

Goldsmith said Cera had found some more staff and "it would seem they have made some progress in that respect lately".

The committee is made up of 11 MPs - six from National, three from Labour, Greens co-leader Dr Russel Norman and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Peters said a recent auditor-general report, that expressed concerns about some of Cera's operations, clearly showed there were problems.

"You would have to be concerned if they are up to speed . . . heading towards the next stage [of the recovery], there are some serious concerns."

The committee report said it was important to plan for Cera's legacy.

The committee was told by Sutton that it was too early to start thinking about how a smooth post-Cera transition would be made. Cera agreed to give the committee "a clear plan for arrangements beyond 2016" by next year's financial review.

Sutton said the challenges facing Cera were always changing.

"Sometimes it can be hard to get all the right people in the right place at the right time."

Cera had used consultants "to fill those holes" when needed, but he was confident it could keep up

with the growing demands it would face as the recovery ramps up.

"It is a crucial two years ahead but I'm confident we have got the right people here."

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Brownlee said getting the right staff for Cera was of "utmost importance".

It was working hard to balance the workload and promised delivery times to ensure the rebuild stayed on track.

"It's a challenge but the rebuild itself is an unprecedented event."

- The Press

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