Chch firm tipped to get work

The Dunedin City Council appears poised to outsource part of its water maintenance work, and 30 of its staff, to Christchurch City Council-owned company City Care.

The Otago Daily Times understands a final decision on the proposal is expected to be made at a meeting of the council's executive management team on Tuesday.

Staff will be informed of the outcome the following morning, and a public announcement is due hours later.

Most of the details were confirmed by council infrastructure and services general manager Tony Avery yesterday, following a tip-off to the newspaper from an anonymous council water and waste services employee.

Mr Avery would not comment on, or rule out, ''speculation'' City Care was poised to be named as the successful company bidding for the work.

More than one company remained in the running at this stage, he said.

The worker - who would not be named for fear of losing his job - told the ODT he and his colleagues understood City Care was the successful tenderer.

A shortlist of four companies bidding for the work had been whittled down after French-owned Veolia and Fulton Hogan either withdrew or missed out, he said.

That left City Care and Downer in the running, and City Care vehicles had recently been spotted at the Tahuna wastewater treatment plant, the man said.

Staff were ''stressed'' as they awaited confirmation of the decision.

The proposal offered no guarantee of future employment for workers relocated to the successful company.

''The stress is pretty high. There's no guarantees. We were told we would be guaranteed a job up to the point of transfer ... some will be more vulnerable than others.

''We don't know where they will be based, what they'll be doing, whether they'll be kept on. The future is totally unknown.''

He also claimed the announcement had been deferred until next week, having originally been scheduled for yesterday, to avoid political fallout during the election campaign.

''We believe that this is a ploy to keep it out of the election campaign.

''This is really bad news.''

That was rejected by Mr Avery, who said he was unaware of any plan to announce the deal yesterday.

The timing reflected the need to make a final decision at next week's EMT meeting and then inform staff, he said.

Next week's announcement would mark the latest step in a process that began in 2009, when councillors asked council staff to consider the best way of managing water infrastructure over the next 50 years.

A proposal to create a new council-controlled organisation for water was considered, and later rejected, but led to the plan to outsource the council's water and wastewater network maintenance instead.

Only work relating to the maintenance of water and wastewater pipes would be outsourced, with other aspects of the network remaining in-house.

That included the operation and maintenance of treatment plants and pumping stations, and all asset planning and investment decisions.

The move would see 30 of the council's water and wastewater maintenance workers from the Turakina Rd depot transferred to the new employer, saving between $350,000 and $500,000 a year.

Another $900,000 could be recouped from the sale of surplus equipment, and future investment costs of $590,000 avoided.

The worker told the ODT he worried the successful company would be able to increase the price it charged Dunedin City Council in future years, once ''the intellectual knowledge of the quite complex systems of sewerage and water are dispersed to the four winds''.

''Council will have no option, because it's lost all of the intellectual knowledge and skill base,'' the worker said.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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