Value of Crown monitor queried

Errol Millar
Errol Millar
Former Southern District Health Board chairman Errol Millar wants to know how the $35,000 annual fee for the board's Crown monitor can be justified.

Mr Millar said he did not want his criticisms to be seen as sour grapes, but at a time when the board was "trying to save a dollar everywhere", he questioned what was being achieved in the role which attracted a fee higher than that for the deputy chairman.

Health Minister Tony Ryall first appointed Dunedin accountant Stuart McLauchlan as Crown monitor to the Southland District Health Board in September 2009 and then retained the role when the Otago and Southland boards merged last May. His fee is paid by the board.

Mr Ryall has stipulated that Mr McLauchlan's priority is to work with the board to improve the organisation's financial performance, with an expectation that he provide independent advice on board performance, particularly on financial matters.

Stuart McLauchlan
Stuart McLauchlan
Mr Millar, who was not reappointed at the end of last year, said Mr McLauchlan had not held regular meetings or discussed issues with him.

There were occasional "ad hoc meetings" when he and chief executive Brian Rousseau would meet Mr McLauchlan to keep him informed, but these were a matter of getting him "up to speed" because he was a "regular non-attender at meetings".

Records show Mr McLauchlan, in his time with both boards, has attended about half of the board meetings, not always for the full meeting, and nine of the 15 audit, finance and risk meetings where detailed discussion of the board's finances occurs.

Mr Millar said he had no idea what information Mr McLauchlan was reporting to the minister or ministry and whether it was accurate because he was "never briefed".

Mr McLauchlan said he did not consider Mr Millar's criticisms were fair and were related to the fact that Mr Millar "didn't want me there in the first place".

While the legislation relating to the functions of a Crown monitor specifies observing the decision-making processes and the decisions of the board, Mr McLauchlan said attending meetings was just part of the role.

His lack of attendance following the changeover to the new board was the result of a clash of commitments for him. This year he expected to attend more meetings because new chairman Joe Butterfield had streamlined dates and organised meetings to suit his commitments.

On the question of advising Mr Millar of what was in his quarterly reports, Mr McLauchlan said he recalled Mr Millar being copied in on "at least one" of his reports. Not all of his reports were in written form; many were "face to face".

In the Crown monitor role, he met Ministry of Health officials several times a month, including attending monitoring and intervention framework meetings. He also had a "huge interface" with the National Health Board.

Mr McLauchlan said he felt some progress had been made at the board in addressing the deficit which needed to be "sorted out in three years", but there needed to be more progress. (The projected deficit for this year is $14.9 million.)

Chief executive Brian Rousseau said he had regular contact with Mr McLauchlan, but because he, Mr Millar and Mr McLauchlan had not always been in the same place, all three would not often have met together. He continued to have regular contact with Mr McLauchlan, including "lots of phone calls".

Mr Millar said he had not raised his concerns with Mr Ryall last year, but the minister had been made aware of his opinion about a monitor the year before.

When Mr Ryall had approached him about replacing Richard Thomson, after his sacking as Otago chairman in 2009, the minister had also indicated he was considering appointing a Crown monitor. Mr Millar said he had advised Mr Ryall that he would not take the chairman's role if that were the case because it would have suggested the minister had no confidence in him.

When Mr McLauchlan was appointed to the Southern board Mr Millar said he was not advised and had not been supplied with the terms of reference. Mr Ryall did not wish to comment on Mr Millar's latest concerns.

- elspeth.mclean@odt.co.nz

 

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