Sat, Feb 3, 2024 8:00 AM

Trio seeks election to power trust


William Woodworth

A trio of candidates are campaigning together to drive change within the Marlborough Electric Power Trust (MEPT).

Simon Bishell, Belinda Jackson and Brendon Burns are seeking to win all three vacant roles.

The three have been motivated by the ongoing, chronic underperformance of Marlborough Lines Limited’s (MLL) investment in Yealands Wine Group.

Financial distributions to power consumers have been lacking on what was promised, they say.

“We believe MEPT Trustees must exercise their power to hold Marlborough Lines Directors to account.

“These Directors are responsible for the performance of the business and its investments.”

“In 2015 when Marlborough Lines purchased YWG its then Managing Director publicly declared ‘…customers will get at least one months’ free electricity as a consequence of the investment…”

Annual distributions are in fact $44 dollars less than the pre-purchase distribution of $50 in 2015, the trio state.

There needs to be more accountability and transparency says former newspaper editor Brendon Burns.

“The recently released Marlborough Lines 2023 Annual Report states net operating cashflow for the Group is less than $4.7 million, down from nearly $30m the previous year.”

Alongside wife Philippa, Brendon still oversees a small vineyard they developed. He also served a term in Parliament in Christchurch during the city’s earthquakes and helped form two post-quake community groups.

“We are concerned a distinct lack of cashflow for the Group could eventually affect the core business of Marlborough Lines - keeping our lights on, maintaining the network and holding back upwards pressure on lines charges.”

Simon Bishell is the fifth generation of the Bishell family to farm Caythorpe on the outskirts of Blenheim.

He has attended every MEPT annual public meeting since 2019. He has qualifications in both viticulture and commerce and is a member of the NZ Institute of Directors.

He says a repeating theme is a lack of transparency by Trustees and an inability to answer questions.

“Basic questions regarding Trust or Company business are countered with excuses of commercial sensitivity, the relevant information is not available at the time or supposedly can’t be recalled.

“Consumers who dare challenge the status quo are sometimes treated with contempt,” he says.

“This is not acceptable for an organisation there to represent the interests of power consumers.”

Belinda Jackson is a well-known figure in the wine industry and consults to several industry organisations.

She has contributed at both management and board levels for Riding for the Disabled (currently President) locally and nationally, Renwick Smart & Connected and The Mistletoe Charitable Foundation

Challenging the status quo is key, she says.

"I am looking forward to challenging the decision-making process at MEPT so that we can push ahead with transparency and integrity and deliver on behalf of the 26,700 beneficiaries it is there to represent."

Voting papers will be emailed or posted to all eligible consumers from Thursday, 29 February 2024; voting concludes Monday 25 March with results formally notified Friday 29 March 2024.

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