Parata refuses to disclose details of settlement

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 08:49 31/01/2014
Hekia Parata
Kirk Hargreaves/Fairfax NZ

WHITEBOARD DEBATE: Education Minister Hekia Parata, right, talks shop with Sue Elley, the head of the new year 7 and 8 wing at Hornby High School.

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Questions remain over whether the Government, celebrating a $200 million insurance settlement for earthquake-damaged schools in Canterbury, was short- changed in the deal.

Education Minister Hekia Parata was all smiles when making the announcement at Hornby High School yesterday, but she and her officials repeatedly refused to say what difference, if any, there was between the true cost of the damage and the settlement figure reached.

Labour's Christchurch education spokeswoman, Megan Woods, was concerned people still did not know if the settlement was a good deal or "if we've been short- changed".

Officials said their initial estimate of damage was about $90m but more detailed investigations had revealed the actual figure was much higher.

How much higher remains unclear and Parata and her staff deflected questions about the true cost of the damage.

Instead, she fronted with insurer Vero to celebrate the deal, which involved 200 schools and about 1000 buildings. "Look, this has been a negotiation . . . we've reached a settlement and we're very satisfied with that settlement.

"We see it contributing to the impetus of the work that we're doing here and that you see around us."

Parata was also at pains to say the $200m settlement was only a part of the Government's $1.1 billion spend on repairing and rebuilding schools.

The Vero payout is one of the biggest in New Zealand history. Parata said it was "great news" for Canterbury schools.

"It is a significant day . . . we've all worked constructively to get to a good place here."

The new Pegasus School opens in term two and the rebuilt Halswell School will open in the final term of this year.

About $30m will be spent on the renewal programme in the 2013-14 year and about $100m in 2014-15.

Parata chose to make the announcement at Hornby High School, where six new teaching spaces, costing $1.4m from insurance money, have just opened in time for the new school year.

She admitted "frustration and wrangling" during the negotiations and was "very satisfied" with the final agreement.

Although she welcomed a settlement, Woods said Parata needed to be more transparent. "People have no idea if this is a good deal or whether there has been underinsurance or we've been short-changed. These are questions the people of Christchurch need answered."

Vero executive general manager Jimmy Higgins said it had been a complex claim that took three years of work and an "intense" six months leading up to settlement.

"The cash settlement will give the Ministry [of Education] complete flexibility on how, when and where they decide to spend the money on the remediation work required," he said.

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