Exploring innovative public funding models for Environment Canterbury

Local councils are always under pressure to keep rates down. Few councils experienced this more than Christchurch after the earthquakes, when Cantabrians needed every cent to rebuild broken homes and lives.

Supporting Environment Canterbury with research and strategy

Miles McConway was Director of Finance and Corporate Services at Environment Canterbury until 2021. He recalls, “I started working at Environment Canterbury shortly after the Canterbury earthquakes. We were working with government commissioners, and one of their objectives was improving our organisational capability. Our values, competencies, structure, processes, and tech all came under scrutiny, along with our financial position, revenue, and funding.”

“Gemelli started out by doing some audits of our internal functions and processes as part of this organisational investment. Then I got them to help me with writing technical papers. The people in my team were accountants, technologists, and HR specialists. I didn't have a strategy team. So, I was doing all our strategy research and writing, and it was becoming onerous.”

“The Council was working on their long-term plan at the time and Gemelli supported me with papers for that. Their writing is always high quality. They apply strong critical thinking and research skills to a wide variety of topics. For example, they did a large piece of work on ways to fund flood protection schemes for rivers in the Canterbury region. The schemes were rate payer funded, and Gemelli investigated other funding sources.”

Exploring innovative financing for Council activities

Miles explains, “Commissioners were very focussed on getting the job they were charged with done in a way that created value. There was a focus on efficiency, reviewing what we spent ratepayer’s money on and looking at revenue sources other than rates. A new mindset was established that encouraged new thinking and a new approach.”

“After reviewing and experiencing the services of a number of providers, we struck upon Gemelli and gave them a go. Their thinking and approach fitted well with the new mindset at Environment Canterbury. Over the following years, Gemelli undertook a range of investigations into alternative funding sources including carbon farming, forestry and land leasing, leveraging the Councils balance sheet and responding to the Christchurch City Councils request to help fund the new stadium with an innovative approach which involved them expanding their asset ownership to include Environment Canterbury.”

“Gemelli developed a set of innovative funding models for the new stadium for both councils to consider. We looked at ways we could re-structure ownership of the Council’s assets to provide funding and create greater civic wealth. The models involved repositioning equity to create greater equity. In the end the Council didn’t go with that approach, but it was a solid model, and showed Gemelli’s ability to take a creative approach to financing projects.”

“A model that did get approved and is now in place was for the Council to support the establishment and administration of an environmental philanthropic fund. Surveys and feedback showed that there was an unfulfilled demand for investment into environmental projects that provided real benefit for the Canterbury region. Gemelli developed the model and assisted in brokering the deal with the Christchurch Foundation to administer the fund and projects. The fund is now up and running.”

Committed to delivering the right solutions for you

Miles relishes working in a collaborative way. “Some of our best papers were a joint effort and Gemelli are very good at managing the ideation process. They’re always willing to sit down and talk ideas. They’ve an open mind and an open approach to finding a solution, and that generosity of spirit is a very powerful way to come up with solutions. Large consultancies can hold things very close to their chest because they want the IP. Gemelli give their time and ideas freely. They see the benefit of sharing their IP, so they add value to any project.”

“Gemelli is a team of interesting, capable people. They’ve a strong focus on building a rapport as well as doing the work. Technically they follow very good project management processes. They do quality work, they’re flexible, and communication around delivery is always excellent.”

“Gemelli would often deliver reports to the Council and the executive leadership team. And James is good at handling politicians. He isn’t precious about being challenged. He always says, ‘We can look at that.” He’s very open to suggestions and feedback because Gemelli is all about creating the best solution. Pride or professional ego never get in the way.”

Breadth, simplicity, and possibility

Our goal as a consultancy is to support organisations with social, environmental, and economic impact, and local councils often head this list. Miles explains where we added most value for Environment Canterbury. “Gemelli offer breadth and simplicity. Their broad breadth of ability meant they could cover a wide range of projects. And they’re very good at taking a complex idea and distilling it down into something everyone can understand. Gemelli never get into that mode where they’re showing off their professional knowledge using highfalutin words. Instead, they take a complex subject and put it in terms that are robust enough for a professional peer review, but also easy for a councillor with little financial understanding to absorb.”

“Gemelli also offer great value for money. They don’t charge anywhere near what big multi-national consultancies charge, but their work is of a higher quality. I know that’s a deliberate choice because Gemelli want for-purpose organisations to be able to access quality consultancy services. At Environment Canterbury we used to put $100,000 dollars a year into our internal audit and review programme. We needed to make sure that we got the best return from that investment. Gemelli provided great value for money and quality. The reports and papers were investigated and written by senior practitioners and by James himself.”

“Finally, not all value comes from assets and dollars in the bank. Often value comes from changing the thinking patterns of an organisation or helping you test your thinking. Gemelli brings an injection of critical thinking that inspires people to think in more creative ways and the sort of conversations I have with Gemelli build broader possibilities.”

We help councils explore new revenue & investment strategies

Work with us to explore innovative ways to use capital to achieve your organisational goals. Whether you need a feasibility study, a business case, a financial strategy, or simply support with strategic planning, we can help.