Labour Party SOE spokesman and Christchurch-based MP Clayton Cosgrove said Carter's comments on Sunday "proved beyond doubt central government’s intention to see Canterbury’s assets sold off."
“This issue was raised over a year ago when the CERA legislation was before Parliament. This was not a part of the deal. The Minister’s rationale - that councils should sell down infrastructure to survive - is ludicrous," Cosgrove said.
“These are revenue generating assets which have sizable returns for the whole community. Selling these off to fulfil National’s agenda is foolish," he said.
"This is a nationwide issue. Selling revenue generating highly profitable assets which are providing a solid rate of return at a local level is about as logical as National’s plan to sell our revenue generating state-owned assets.
“Canterbury’s profitable assets have kept local rates in check. To hear the Minister say that he would rather give up that revenue stream to pay for the disaster that has befallen our City makes a mockery of the Government’s commitment to Canterbury’s recovery," Cosgrove said.Cosgrove can only be right where the asset is more efficiently owned by local council, or where there are serious problems in IPO markets, or where the Council has a particular kind of stupidity.
If the asset is best owned by government, then the selling price will be less than the discounted value of the dividend flow. Otherwise, local Councils can do better by selling off the asset and taking the cash.
If there are serious problems in IPO markets, then things sell for less than fundamental value at IPO. But there's no particular evidence of this.
The last one might be more of a worry. Imagine a guy who has a trust fund that pays him a modest annual income. He generally is foolish in how he spends it, but he's always able to pay his bills. If he is given the investment as a lump sum, he blows it all on pop rocks and bungee jumping and has no income flow for the next year. That guy is probably better off not being able to sell off the dividend-paying asset. Is Christchurch Council that guy? Hopefully not. But post-quake, unless they're dumb enough to blow it all on stadiums, there are tons of productive ways they could be spending the money - roads, sewers, turning Red Zone into useful parks.
And, if Council is dumb enough to blow any divestiture returns on pop rocks and stadiums, are they smart enough to handle the asset properly if they own it in the first place? Note that an asset like the Lyttelton Port of Christchurch isn't like a hands-off trust fund; it requires annual decisions about asset maintenance versus dividends. Cosgrove talks about how the revenue stream from assets helped kept rate rises in check; what reports I'd heard on maintenance standards at the Port as of a few years ago suggested that Council was putting a fair bit more weight on current dividend flow than on maintaining the assets. Divestiture may be a bad idea if Council is prudent enough to manage the asset properly while they own it, but profligate if they're handed a lump sum of cash; under the current circumstances, with plenty of really pressing financial needs, I'm less worried about this one.