Plunket accused of 'underhand' tactics as local communities fight to take back control of centres

Plunket is being accused of "underhand" and "unethical" tactics as local communities fight to take back control of their centres from the charity.

In the last two years assets and properties, totalling just over $52 million, were transferred from local community ownership to the national organisation headquartered in Wellington.

Plunket bosses say the restructure will make them more efficient and give them "greater visibility" of their resources so they can provide better services to vulnerable communities.

But local groups say the properties or land doesn't belong to Plunket - because they were a gift from communities who also fundraised to maintain them. And they fear the buildings could eventually be sold off. 

Karori parents are furious Plunket is to close their local crèche next month. They say they were given just seven weeks' notice of the closure - and says Plunket won't let them fundraise to keep the building open. 

Parent management committee member Vanessa Kirkham says the land was given to Plunket in the 1940s. Locals then fundraised to build the centre. 

"Since then they have spent countless hours running it and maintaining it, baking cakes, helping with the day-to-day running of it so we really feel that it's an important part of our community," she said.

Her two-year-old son has attended the crèche for three terms and she has been on the committee for three years.  Parents had fundraised $50,000 to carry out some renovations. But she says Plunket took control of the bank accounts last year.

"This building is worth around about a million dollars - so we think it is just a thinly veiled excuse to sell the property and put the money in their coffers. We want other communities around New Zealand to be aware of the underhand tactics and bulldozing techniques that Plunket are using."

Parents received the news at 5pm today and say they haven't been given enough notice to find alternative childcare.

Mum Rachael Bowie's youngest son Charlie was due to start in a few weeks and she only heard the news from other parents. She says Plunket's behaviour has been "appalling".

"There is nothing else in the community that caters for that age group in this way so I don't know what I am going to do now. There is a waiting list at most places in Karori - in fact the Plunket creche has a waiting list as well it is so popular and other places have quite high fees so they make it unaffordable for families."

Her eldest son Leo - who used to attend the crèche - says he'll donate his pocket money to save the crèche. 

"I have an idea. I am going to try and get two money boxes from my house and then out them on a desk here and then see if we can get heaps more money."

Nick Clark is also on the parent management committee and says Plunket's restructure has been "chaotic".

"It's very sad that the community loses such a wonderful asset like this and the way in which we are losing it makes it that much more disappointing.

"It's unsettling to say the least. Kids respond to stable environments and routine and when an asset like this is lost then there is disruption."

In Hurunui, two local branches in Waiau and Culverden are taking legal action to take back control of their centres.

Culverden president Brona Youngman says the title deeds were transferred to the Canterbury branch and then to the national office without consultation.

She says the centre was a gift from a local business man who subdivided his garden in the 1950s.

"People are working hard to fundraise money. We've been paying insurance on these buildings and Plunket never showed any interest in these buildings until last year. People are just heartbroken. They just came and took it and we don't we don't have any certainty that they are going to keep it here or sell it."

Volunteer Jess Davison says the communities are unhappy. "What Plunket has done is really unethical."

Bram Kukler, Plunket's Acting Chief of Operational Transformation, says services in Hurunui will improve.

He acknowledges local people are upset.

"Plunket has recently become one national organisation ...so all the resources  have come together for Plunket and we look at how we utilise those resources to serve the communities that need them and how we can make the biggest difference for communities.

"In the past these committees have made localised decisions and felt in control of what decisions were made for what use and that has now been removed - we are finding different ways of working with communities."

He says no decision has been made on selling the Karori site but that the centre isn't "viable".

Plunket has offered to work with parents to find alternative childcare, he said. 

Plunket says it needed to move to one national organisation because the old structure meant some communities were doing really well but other, more vulnerable areas, we missing out. 

"Now we've got a full picture (and yes the resources) we can make sure children who need us get our support no matter where they live," a spokeswoman said. 

As part of a restructure ownership of the properties have been transferred to Plunket's head office. Source: 1 NEWS