Share­hold­ers’ leader sparks strife over cuts

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

The new chair­man of the Fon­terra Share­hold­ers Coun­cil has stirred a re­ac­tion in his ranks by tak­ing a knife to the farmer watchdog’s pro­posed bud­get next year of nearly $4 mil­lion.

Simon Couper, who top­pled Blue Read for the top job in July, said he would take a con­sid­er­ably re­duced bud­get pro­posal to next month’s an­nual meet­ing of Fon­terra.

The farmer-elected, 35-mem­ber coun­cil’s bud­get last year was $3.3m. Mr Couper said the pro­posed bud­get for 2010-11 was ‘‘close to $4 mil­lion. It has got out of hand,’’ he said.

He de­clined to elab­o­rate on his bud­get pro­posal un­til it has been voted on by share­hold­ers.

The coun­cil’s job is to monitor the fi­nan­cial per­for­mance of Fon­terra on be­half of the co-op­er­a­tive’s 10,500 farmer-own­ers.

Mr Couper said the coun­cil could hardly com­plain about Fon­terra’s ef­fi­ciency with farmer money if did not fol­low suit with its own farmer-based fund­ing.

But his cost-cut­ting ef­forts have got him in hot wa­ter with other coun­cil mem­bers, spark­ing a protest over the way staff re­dun­dan­cies have been han­dled and crit­i­cism that coun­cil­lors were not con­sulted prop­erly.

The coun­cil’s gov­er­nance and ethics com­mit­tee has lost two chair­men in quick suc­ces­sion. Philip Palmer stepped down re­cently and his suc­ces­sor, De­siree Read, re­signed soon af­ter be­ing ap­pointed.

Both res­ig­na­tions are un­der­stood to be re­lated to the new lead­er­ship’s changes. Nei­ther would com­ment, say­ing Mr Couper was the coun­cil’s only spokesman.

Mr Couper said peo­ple made de­ci­sions for many rea­sons and he could not con­trol that.

There have been three re­dun­dan­cies at the coun­cil’s of­fice in Fon­terra’s Auck­land head­quar­ters that of a strate­gic man­ager, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager and coun­cil man­ager and dairy in­dus­try ad­min­is­tra­tor.

Taranaki councillor Shona Glent­worth has writ­ten to coun­cil lead­ers and coun­cil­lors ex­press­ing ‘‘ex­treme’’ con­cern about the way the of­fice re­view was han­dled.

Her let­ter said the process did not ap­pear to have fol­lowed good busi­ness prac­tice and was marked by lack of con­sul­ta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with coun­cil­lors about the need for change. ‘‘Based on this ex­am­ple, the coun­cil should be concerned about the lead­er­ship team’s ap­proach and should look at pro­cesses which en­sure ac­count­abil­ity to the wider coun­cil.’’

Mr Couper said there was no un­rest within the coun­cil and then con­tra­dicted that, say­ing peo­ple al­ways re­acted to change.

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