CBEC's Healthy Homes team has insulated 5,000 Northland homes since 2008.

Creating jobs in Kaitaia


Cliff Colquhoun works with million dollar men and women every day.

The Community, Business and Environment Centre (CBEC) CEO says that’s what he calls the people the team works with.

“That’s what I call the people we help into employment – the million dollar men and women.”

A few years ago, he analysed five of the crew to better understand their history of unemployment. The analysis showed Colquhoun that these people would have cost about a million dollars each in benefits and related costs over their lifetimes.

More important than cost, though, is social wellbeing that comes from full time employment, says Colquhoun. Social wellbeing includes the individual affected and the effect on the whole community that gains from having a healthy society.

“Social justice is at the heart of CBEC – it’s what motivates us. And to get it right, our society needs full employment but we don’t believe it is possible anymore. I grew up in a New Zealand that expected full employment. You just assumed you would work. But now, 30 years on, society has gradually accepted a different view on work, it’s ok to have people sitting at home unemployed.”

On top of that, Colquhoun says, CBEC is motivated to reverse the trend of losing locally owned enterprises.

“Marquee hire – why would we take on this new business? Well it was going to be sold out of town so we formed a joint venture and kept it local – we kept local jobs.”

Now CBEC has a seasonal business that compliments their existing labour hire business, employing two fulltime equivalents and two seasonal workers.

Based in Kaitaia in the Far North, CBEC is one of the town’s larger employers and were at 80 permanent staff plus casual employees at their peak. They recently lost a major contract –the council’s waste management and recycling – and have dropped to 45 permanent employees but are in a “mini growth spurt”.

“We have just set up a cycle hire business in Whangarei, Kawakawa and Kaitaia and took over operation management of a fourth public swimming pool in December.”

Colquhoun says CBEC has proven community enterprise can be a significant employer and a key element of a healthy economy.

“We’ve created local jobs by saving – saving energy and recycling waste – it’s another way of looking at economics. Economic growth as a measure of community prosperity in the Western world is an illusion. If we separated out negative growth, e.g. policing, health treatments and natural disasters, we would find we are in the negative. We have proven there is serious, sustainable employment possible and economic prosperity from redirecting spending – we’d like to do more.”

His own estimates are that someone unemployed probably costs society around $1,000 a week once all costs are taken into account. Colquhoun says there is a better way to use this spending but the key barrier is a lack of understanding.

“Central and local government have not got their heads around community enterprise. We’re not a business or the voluntary sector. Our sole purpose is to serve our community – 100% of what we earn goes back into our community through the development of local goods and services.”

Two years ago, Colquhoun visited the UK on a Churchill fellowship examining social enterprise.

“Some are more than 100 years old – that’s a lot of opportunity to influence central and local government policy. We haven’t cracked that yet in NZ.”

He says community enterprise in NZ doesn’t have this influence.

“In NZ we have only three recognised sectors to our economy; public, private and volunteer. Community enterprise doesn’t fit these sectors.”

“Somebody said to me once that we’re seen as business by charity and as charity by business.”

But community enterprise requires a different approach by central and local government.

“Community enterprises are high achievers so supporting this sector is worth the investment. Where the public and private sectors struggle, community enterprise is able to make changes and improvements to communities.”

Central and local government tenders present an opportunity says Colquhoun. Community enterprise can struggle to win contracts that are focused only on financial costs and not wider value. The loss of their recycling contract is a classic example of that, he says.

“When recycling was new in New Zealand, all around the country community enterprises like ours took the risk and got it going in partnership with councils – we set the standards.
But now it’s established and goes out to tender, we don’t win them as large waste companies undercut recycling costs. Then we often see recycling services reduce and a lack of innovation to achieve even higher levels of waste minimisation. Communities’ aim has always been zero waste. Waste companies have little concern about this.”

However, Colquhoun feels hopeful change is on the way. He says Auckland City Council has just done quality work on new procurement and tender guidelines.

“This creates an equal opportunity for community enterprises to win a tender.”

Colquhoun says the best action Government can take is to immediately look at their procurement policies.

“If we carried out a full analysis of the value community enterprise brings, we would find that not only are their social and environmental benefits substantial, but with true financial evaluation the economics stack up as well.”

In the past 25 years, he says CBEC has survived and grown, without much government support, to have a major impact. A little more attention to develop a strong community enterprise network nationally will make all the difference, starting with understanding.


Established in1989
Operating ModelCo-operative society with registered charitable status
Number employed45 permanent, plus casual employees
Annual turnover$3.5 million (current year's budget)