Fury as council staff ignore orders

01:12, Mar 14 2013
Maria Thackwell
MOTIVATED: Maria Thackwell says grown men are crying in frustration at the prospect of facing another winter in broken homes.

City councillors are furious council staff appear to have ignored a unanimous resolution that called on them to urgently investigate options for setting up an independent insurance advocacy service in Christchurch.

That resolution was passed last July, but staff admitted yesterday that they have yet to do any work on the issue.

The admission came as councillors debated a notice of motion from Cr Yani Johanson and Cr Glenn Livingstone that sought to impose a March 28 deadline on staff.

But they were told by community services general manager Michael Aitken that the deadline was unrealistic as staff had yet to begin working on the requested report as they had been waiting to see what action the Government took.

The notice of motion was passed unanimously.

Cr Tim Carter said it was appalling that a resolution passed unanimously by councillors had been ignored by staff.

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"It is time for action, not excuses,'' Carter said.

"We can sit and blame staff for not acting on our resolution, we can blame Cera for its inaction ... or we can be proactive and show leadership. It is time for us to take control and fund the advocacy service.'' 

Johanson, who has proposed using $200,000 from the Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund to set up the service, said councillors had been patient but it was time now for action: "This is about prioritising the wellbeing of people in our city who need support.''

Livingstone said that after Hurricane Sandy, which hit the eastern coast of the United States last October, the governor of New York had announced the establishment of a mediation service to help homeowners reach a settlement with their insurers.

That mediation service would be running by April, yet two years had passed in Christchurch since the earthquakes and no such service was operating here.

"Many in our communities are being pushed around from pillar to post by these insurance companies and they need us to act for them, otherwise who will? They are our constituents. We have a duty to act for them,'' Livingstone said.

Acting Mayor Ngaire Button said it was not the council or its staff who should feel shamed; it was the insurance companies.

Wider Earthquake Communities' Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman earlier told councillors that it was scandalous that eight months after the council had passed a resolution calling for an urgent investigation into setting up an insurance advocacy service, nothing had happened.

"It is letting down the citizens of our city,'' he said. "We need to act on it now for the best interest of Cantabrians in this city.''

Maria Thackwell, who lost her home in the February 2011 quake and battled for 18 months to reach a settlement with her insurance company, said for her the mental anguish was over, but for many others it was not.

She had sat down with men recently who had cried with frustration at the lack of progress on their insurance claims and at the prospect of facing another winter in broken homes.

"I am not a political person. However, I am motivated by caring for people. I know how it feels to be a minority that continually fights to be heard now,'' she said.

''The day this council voted to urgently investigate setting up an insurance advocacy service I felt proud, but where is it?'' 

David Stringer, from Insurance Watch, said the council's lack of action on the insurance front was lamentable and it would be judged harshly for it in the history books.

"There should be no more discussion about this. It is a government matter, not a management matter,'' he said.

''Make the decision ... get on with it. This is now a humanitarian issue.''

The Press