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Pandemic: What the WCC could (and should) be doing

by PCGM
The rapidly-spreading COVID-19 crisis is busy tearing up all the rule books of our daily lives and our economy. The Wellington City Council has announced pool and library closures and a range of other measures designed to slow the virus, but what else could they do? Here at the wellington.scoop global HQ, our crack team has been brainstorming some helpful ideas for how we can help hold the economic damage at bay, and we think WCC definitely has a role to play.

The main idea is pretty straightforward: WCC can’t fix the city’s economic issues, but it can do a fair bit to not make things worse. With that in mind, here’s a shopping list of measures that could be put in place quickly and easily, and which would have immediate impact.

1. Keep the business running. WCC is a major employer in the city, both directly and indirectly, so it needs to make sure that everyone stays in work. Obviously that means that there are no redundancies or layoffs during the crisis, but also not putting the brakes on the private sector contracts that it has with companies small and large. Most of the businesses working for the WCC are going to be struggling – if not today, then definitely in a few weeks time as a possible quarantine takes effect. So the WCC has an obligation to not terminate any contracts and to help keep their suppliers in business, even if it means making payments for services the council isn’t actually able to receive at the moment. The council needs to act to protect the local economy, rather than acting to protect its own cashflow. Which takes us to the next point …

2. Pay the bills on time, if not sooner. Make sure that supplier invoices are paid as promptly as possible to help ease the cashflow issues that every company in the country is going to experience. Again, WCC should act to protect the local economy and local jobs, rather than hoarding cash.

3. Drop fees and charges where they no longer make sense. A good example is parking charges and fines, which – if New Zealand follows the international lead and stops public transport – are going to be an impediment to workers in critical industries. If public transport is out of action and we’re trying to maintain social distance, then people in essential industries aren’t going to have a choice about taking the car to work. So penalising them for parking too long or in the wrong spot just won’t help, and may well add stress to people who will already be under significant pressure.

4. Waive the deadlines for the moment. Councils have all sorts of deadlines by which information needs to be provided and activities undertaken, but the WCC should adopt a pragmatic approach to these. A good example might be a Notice to Fix on a construction site, where builders need to complete remedial work by a set date – which makes no sense in a quarantine. And by the same token, the WCC has a bunch of statutory obligations – such as processing consents – which need to be completed within a fixed time period. Again, these need to go by the wayside for the moment, as there are more important issues to address.

5. Reduce the rates burden. There will be plenty of people who are going to be out of work or whose livelihoods have dried up, so the council needs to grant these people immediate rates relief by waiving late fees and/or deferring instalment payments for the next six months or more. And this needs to be an automatic process, not a crawl over broken glass through a bureaucratic minefield. If a ratepayer can show an email or letter saying they are on unpaid leave, or a business has been approved for wage or leave support from Government, then there should be an automatic suspension of rates for the next six months with no interest payable, no questions asked.

6. Communicate the changes. These are relatively simple operational changes, and the WCC should shout them from the rooftops so that everyone in the capital knows that new rules apply, and that the council is doing everything it can to support the local economy. Besides, it would be much more interesting to talk about than bickering about transport and sewerage!

Undoubtedly there are even better ideas just waiting in the wings (feel free to suggest them in the comments), and no doubt there’s a crack team of WCC wonks working on all of this right now. The main impediment to making the needed changes will therefore be people saying “but won’t this cost money?!” To which the only sane response is, who cares?

As our esteemed local government leaders keep pointing out to us, the WCC is in a sound financial position and can borrow further if necessary. So given how fast COVID-19 is spreading and its horrific impacts in countries just like ours, paying attention to the people rather than the finances is merely the conservative and prudent approach. If the WCC takes immediate steps to help keep our community safe and to help keep Wellingtonians in jobs and grocery money, despite the financial costs to the council, then they are doing the right thing.

2 comments:

  1. Jennie, 23. March 2020, 12:13

    Suggest that people keep a record of their everyday movements, where they went, what people if any met, shops they went into. Sometimes its hard to remember what you did yesterday!

     
  2. michael, 25. March 2020, 10:25

    The WCC needs to look at what Campbell Barry is doing in Lower Hutt, and good on their CEO for taking an immediate wage cut – something our well-paid WCC CEO could consider doing. One gets the impression the Lower Hutt city council is a well-led pro-active cohesive unit.