In our last update, we referred to the very significant changes proposed by the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance. On Tuesday afternoon last week, the NZ Government released its response to the Commission's report. The response contains some important departures from the Royal Commission's recommendations. In this update, we look briefly at what the Government has decided and the likely implications of those decisions for the Auckland region, both during the transitional period and beyond.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SAID (AND DIDN'T SAY)
To us, the Government's response to the Commission's recommendations sends two key messages to the region.
First, the Government wants simplicity, and clean and clear lines of authority for Auckland's governance. Second, the Government is not afraid 'to do what it takes' to deliver a streamlined Auckland Council by 30 October 2010.
Key aspects of the Government's response include:
- Endorsement of the Royal Commission's central recommendation that the existing eight city, district and regional councils be replaced by a new Auckland Council.
- Endorsement of the 'One Mayor' concept, with the mayor elected at large and with enhanced governance powers.
- Amendment to the proposed composition of the new Auckland Council. The Government has decided that a majority of Auckland Councillors (12 out of the 20) are to be elected from wards, as opposed to the Commission's proposal of eight out of 23. The Government has, at this stage, also decided not to accept the Royal Commission's recommendation for representation of Maori on Auckland Council via the Maori electoral role.
- Rejection of the Commission's proposal for there to be a second tier of six local councils. The Government has decided that there will instead be 20 to 30 local boards. Local services will be delivered by the new Auckland Council while local boards will 'provide for strong community representation and the ability for residents and ratepayers to influence decision making'.
- Endorsement in principle of one regional transport authority (RTA), as a Council Controlled Organisation (CCO), responsible for all Auckland local government transport functions. The Government has decided that the RTA's responsibilities will include local roads (which the Commission had proposed would be within the authority of its proposed local councils). Similarly, the Government has also agreed, in principle, to the concept of a single water and wastewater provider (also as a CCO), with charges based on the volume of water used.
- Rejection of the proposal for a separate community board for the central city and waterfront but endorsement of a Central City and Waterfront Development Agency. The new agency is intended to address what the Government says has been a fragmented approach to developing the Auckland waterfront and city centre. It is unclear at this stage whether it is intended that the new agency be established as a CCO of Auckland Council.
- Rejection of both the Commission's social issues board proposal and the Commission's suggestion of a Government Minister for Auckland.
- Adoption of significantly different transitional arrangements. Existing councils will retain their existing responsibilities but their decision making will be constrained during the transition period. The Establishment Board will monitor existing councils to ensure consistency with new direction and protect key projects. We note that the Government has said that rather than a four year transition and implementation, transition and staffing arrangements (together with 'rationalisation') are to 'mostly' be completed by October 2010.
- Establishment of a temporary Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Minister for Local Government, to oversee the transition.
- Rejection of the Commission's call for a four year local government electoral term.
The Government's response sets out (by necessity given the time frame) only high level decisions. However, in his introduction to the response document, Minister for Local Government, Rodney Hide has said '[t]here will be further decisions in the months to come that fill in the details of this high level structure'. Presumably, the Commission's recommendations regarding a greater commercial focus for CCOs and the appointment of a performance auditor fall into this category of matters still to be addressed.
In our last update, we said that the workload of the proposed Establishment Board would be 'very heavy'. The Board, with the assistance of the Transition Management Group, will now have the added responsibility of managing restructuring and transition matters which the Commission had suggested be left until after Auckland Council is established. As a consequence, even greater resources will most likely be required from the existing councils, Auckland Regional Transport Authority and others. However, this greater focus on transition in almost 'one hit' is perhaps consistent with the tangible shift we see in the Government's response - away from the concept of 'business as usual' for existing councils during the transitional period and towards a scenario where each existing council is effectively under the control of the Establishment Board. In some ways, 'one city' begins now. Having said that, effective leadership and change management at each council will be needed to ensure that essential services continue to be delivered in a seamless way to local communities.
The chief executive of the new Auckland Council (to be initially appointed by the Establishment Board) will provide the important link between the Board and the Council. However, the skills and experience of all the members of the Establishment Board will be critical to ensuring a successful outcome. We repeat our view that clear priorities and efficient execution of essential tasks will be crucial.
A clean slate
The Government's decision not to have a four year transition and implementation period, but instead to mostly complete transition and staffing arrangements by October 2010, suggests that the Government wants the Auckland Council to be focused on the future, right from its establishment. The plan is to have Auckland Council focused on managing the 'one city' from day one, rather than addressing the process of local governance reform. There will be significant challenges for all involved to ensure that the lines do not become blurred and that the new Auckland Council is ready from October next year to get on with the forward-looking work of making Auckland 'the most exciting, vibrant metropolitan centre in Australasia'.
The Government's approach to the issue of local representation raises some interesting questions. On the one hand, the Government's proposal, with its 20- 30 local boards, might be seen as strengthening local representation. However, on the other hand, there is a clear message that the Government expects delivery of all services (even local services) will be managed centrally. The local boards will provide more 'grass roots community representation'. However they will not hold the purse strings. And they may amount to less of a countervailing force against the Auckland Council than larger local councils as were proposed by the Royal Commission.
We anticipate that these issues will be debated over the forthcoming weeks. The precise form and limited functions and powers of the local boards remain to be defined and will certainly be viewed with interest by those who have concerns about the adequacy of local representation under the single city proposal.
Transport and infrastructure
The Government's endorsement, in principle, of one regional transport authority and its support for the concept of a single water and wastewater provider is consistent with the Government's and others' drive to improve Auckland's infrastructure. Unifying control of key types of infrastructure must be seen as an important initial step to delivering improved and more efficient services.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
The speed, direction and tone of the Government's response to the Royal Commission's report shows the Government's commitment to a single city in the Auckland region. Many will disagree strongly with that concept. Both the Royal Commission and the Government have clearly stated a desire for significant change, and quickly. However, much of the important detail (such as the functions and powers of the proposed local boards) remains to be determined. Also, any change will need to be implemented by legislation and there ought to be the usual Select Committee process. There is still opportunity for communities and their leaders to influence the final outcome.
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