All entities have clear strong links with their communities, to ensure New Zealanders have confidence that the entities will listen and respond to their needs.
The entities will continue to be owned by local councils on behalf of the public, however, they remain operationally and financially independent from them. The balance sheets of water services entities are required to be sufficiently separate from local government, to allow them to achieve higher levels of leverage than local authorities can obtain.
Public ownership of water services assets is a bottom line. The legislation includes extensive safeguards against privatisation. All council owners would need to unanimously agree to any proposal to privatise water services. Even in that unlikely event, it would then require a 75 per cent majority in a public referendum. These protections have been put in place to protect water assets from being privatised.
Each water service entity will be governed by a professional Water Services Entity board, appointed by the Regional Representative Groups.
Members will be appointed for their competencies and experience. These will be merit-based appointments based on a defined and diverse skill set.
The board must include members with appropriate knowledge of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi, tikanga, and te ao Māori . There is no requirement for co-governance at the board level.
Strengthening local voice and representation
Regional representative groups will be set up to provide regional and local level direction and oversight. They will set the strategic and performance expectations, appoint the board, approve the strategic direction, and monitor the performance of the Water Services Entities in their area.
Local voice has been strengthened. Under the 10-entity model, every territorial authority owner – and therefore every community – will be represented on the entity’s regional representative group.
Mana whenua will have equal representation on the regional representative groups alongside councils in each entity area.
Regional Advisory Panels are also expected to be established to provide advice on matters such as investment priorities and expectations regarding service standards in their local areas.
Listening and accountable to their community
Water Services Entities will be required to consult with their customers, businesses, and residents on their strategic direction, investment priorities, their prices and charges and work closely with local authorities to ensure water infrastructure provides for growth and development in spatial plans.
Each entity will be required to engage with communities in a meaningful and effective manner on all key accountability documents like Asset Management Plans and Funding and Pricing Plans.
The entities will have to report on how consumer and community feedback was incorporated into their decision-making.
This responsiveness and accountability to communities exceed the current requirements in the Local Government Act.