Marlborough Debt – It’s NOT Okay

Marlborough Debt

It’s interesting that the Mayor and Councillors have chosen to use the media to discuss the “Nothing out of the ordinary Council debt” rather than front a meeting with the Chamber as offered at submission time, accepted then by Chamber and yet to eventuate some weeks later.

We were assured only two years ago that debt was to max out at $41m in 2018-19, reduction would then take place and all was well.

How come that has now blown out by double with no debt reduction strategy in sight? Wild variations of this nature are a concern despite an assurance from Mayor Sowman “MDC does not have a debt problem. In fact we are very comfortable with our potential debt levels going forward”.

Chamber President Nikki de Reeper said, “Is this really the response our business community accepts from our elected Councillors who are supposed to be the leaders in our community?  It’s unprofessional”

It may very well be that Councillors are comfortable with the debt levels but at no point have ratepayers heard or been told as a community how that debt level will be repaid. You may note here that rates are projected to increase by over 50% in the next ten years.

We point out that since 2006/07 financial year, MDC borrowings have increased every year.

Of the $1.4b worth of assets Mayor Sowman states that Council owns, this is mostly infrastructure, which can’t be sold.

In our submission 2015 among other things we recommended that the Council reduce debt through the strategic sale of selected Council owned assets such as the Kathmandu building and that now was not the right time to spend borrowed money. $23m on a public library and $30m on the Flaxbourne Irrigation Scheme.

In addition to this the Council guaranteed the loans for the Theatre.  We don’t see this contingent liability recorded in the annual accounts or in the LTP. This raises another question, yes it may only be a few million dollars but if this has not been disclosed to the community, what else hasn’t?

With Marlborough recognised as a low income town and Statistics NZ showing a decline in paid employees by 5% and only 1% growth in business locations from 2006-2013, what is actually in place to recover the level of debt that not only has occurred but what is projected for the future?

  • There has been no growth in cash reserves from 2013-2014
  • Council needs to concentrate on core infrastructure and consolidate
  • Sell assets that are not Council business.
  • Stop being property developers
  • Stop being in competition with Marlborough business people
  • Buy and support locals
  • Is the new library warranted given that MDC is now advertising that you can download eBooks from home just by using your library card?
  • Is the art gallery or cultural centre warranted? Once again this is going into competition with business, examples being the Gillian Art Gallery and Rangitane Cultural Centre.

Our future should start now. 

Look at other successful Councils around the county that live within their means while still maintaining their core responsibilities.

Consideration must also be given to our older generation whose pensions don’t increase at anything like the rise in rates year on year and our young homeowners with young families who are building the future of the Marlborough community.

Our Council has not managed to pay its way since 2006/07 financial year – so what has changed from 2006/07 to get the debt level to where it is now?

The Council’s own 10 year plan projects it won’t be able to pay its own way for many years to come.

Do remember that rates are projected to increase by over 50% in the next ten years.

Councillors, now is the time to face up to facts and issues.


Apprenticeship – An Underrated Career Option


The Marlborough Apprenticeship Graduation ceremony underpins the recognition that an apprenticeship is a very worthwhile career for young men and women. Our community needs trained and skilled people and it is only right that we should celebrate the success of those that complete their qualifications at all levels whether it be degree, diploma or trade certificate. When an apprentice graduates with a trade certificate in their vocation of choice it recognises they have moved from being a trainee to being a competent practitioner. There is an expectation that they will continue to develop their skills and in due course make their own contribution to train the next generation of apprentices and pass on the skills and knowledge they have learnt. This will add another dimension as they become a mentor and coach in addition to being a skilled tradesperson.

Apprenticeships have been around for centuries in all walks of life, as it is a proven way of training new people and developing a skilled workforce with some expectation of job security and loyalty. They learnt the skills to work with materials to make cart wheels and space craft, wine barrels and storage tanks. As they become masters of their trade they pass on their skills to a new generation of apprentices to complete a cycle. There were apprentices long before there were universities.

Given the critical role of competent tradespeople in our society it is surprising that it is not more popular as a career choice. In a recent survey conducted in two of our local secondary schools, the responses to the question “What level of study do you wish to complete?” was very concerning. Only 1.25% of boys and 1.01% of girls indicated a Trade Certificate/Apprenticeship. That is very worrying.

The knee jerk reaction is to blame the schools but that is wrong. In the same survey when asked whose advice they valued most 70% of boys and 74% of girls said parents. The question really should be why don’t parents see an apprenticeship as a worthwhile career for their sons and daughters?

The fact that parents have the biggest influence on a young person’s career choice should not be surprising and it is supported by research in New Zealand and other countries over a number of years.

The Marlborough Apprenticeship Graduation ceremony has been promoted and funded by our community leaders who have the vision to see that successful apprentices and qualified competent trades people are essential to a vibrant economy. Therefore it is very pleasing that this event is well supported by parents, employers and trade representatives who acknowledge this important milestone in a young person’s career.

Thanks and credit go to Peter Kemp for writing this article.

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