English claim 'not true', says councillor

RACHEL YOUNG AND MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 13:12 26/10/2012

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A claim by Finance Minister Bill English that the city council is not providing requested information to the Government is not true, a councillor says.

English yesterday accused the council of not being open with the Government about its finances.

The council did not understand its predicament, English told the annual Family Help Trust fundraiser in Christchurch, and said that if a business were in the council's situation it would be in danger of receivership.

Council corporate and financial services committee chairwoman Helen Broughton said today that committee members had not withheld information.

''There is no outstanding information that we have been asked to provide that we haven't provided,'' she said.

Council chief executive Tony Marryatt sent an email to councillors this afternoon stating he had confirmation from James Hay, of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, that all information requested by the authority had been supplied, Broughton said.

English was usually ''very, very measured'' in his comments, so his attack on the council ''surprised'' her.

''I'm not at all clear where this comment is coming from, and if he does have substantial concerns it needs to be tabled,'' she said.

Mayor Bob Parker earlier said English's comments were "frankly outrageous" and disrespectful.

He said the comment contradicted two financial strategies released in the past two years.

It has recently been revealed that the Government has been delaying payments to the council for earthquake repairs that were costing about $40 million a week.

Council records showed the Government had paid only $139.3m of a total $357m it owed the council at the end of August.

Council staff said the money was not flowing because the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority was still writing its business case for the appropriation of its share.

''We have certainly, truth be known, had to carry some of those costs to ensure the contractors are paid,'' Parker said.

English said the council may not be able to meet its 40 per cent share of the cost to rebuild infrastructure, but it was not providing the Government with the information needed to plan a compromise.

"I'd have to say they are not reaching the benchmark of co-operation,'' he said.

''When such a large chunk [of money] is coming from Government, we would expect an open book because technically, if they were a business they would be put into receivership and we would be the creditor to do it."

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Cera were "endlessly patient" with the council, English said. "But as the cheque writer, I'm getting very impatient."

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He had asked his officials for council information and they had been unable to provide it because they could not get the answers from the local authority, he said.

"The reply I got was the council is careful around its information."

It was not about the council bending to the Government's way but being open enough to negotiate, he said.

"The city council has a long way to go to understand the need for transparency and openness when you don't have the money and you're relying on someone else to pay for [the rebuild]," he said.

Parker said he believed English was incorrect.

The council developed a publicly notified financial strategy last year and released another budget in June setting out the money it had and where it would be spent, he said.

"You can't be much more open than that,'' he said.

"We have not, at any time, been unable to meet any request from Government officials."

- The Press

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Related story: Council coffers fall short for rebuild funding

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