Rodney Hide: Naysayers miss grand potential of Super City

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Rodney Hide, Minister of Local Government, sets out the benefits and answers the critics.

Minister Rodney Hide says a single Auckland council will be empowered to get on with the job. Photo / Richard Robinson
Minister Rodney Hide says a single Auckland council will be empowered to get on with the job. Photo / Richard Robinson

The creation of a single council for Auckland has been the subject of some wild, hysterical and downright false accusations. Let's get a few facts on the table.

The establishment of one council for Auckland is a response to one unassailable fact. Auckland ratepayers are sick of their region being paralysed by the woeful inability of eight councils to agree on anything.

Goodness, they spend a small fortune suing each other! In recent years they have spent at least $10 million on more than 300 legal actions.

Now, for the first time, Aucklanders will be able to elect a mayor and a council with the vision and direction for the entire region that they agree with - and the mayor and the council will be empowered to get on and do the job.

Auckland will be in charge of its own destiny. The fragmented decision-making, paralysis and gridlock that has bedevilled Auckland for a hundred years is over.

Our purpose is to provide proper governance and clear and decent leadership for Auckland. The cost of leaving Auckland governance fragmented and broken is ever-increasing paralysis and a region incapable of delivering on its incredible potential.

The economic cost of doing nothing is in the billions. The loss in quality of lifestyle even greater.

Yes, the reform is going to cost. The Auckland Transition Agency effecting the transition has a budget of $34 million.

Six million dollars of that budget is to run the first election for the mayor, the council and the local boards across Auckland. That's the usual cost of local body elections across the Auckland region.

There is an additional $60 million upfront investment for information technology. That's necessary for the new council to be up and running by November 1.

Decisions now made also commit the new council to a further $66 million on IT to finish the job post November 1.

Total cost of the transition is $94 million up to November 1, including $6 million on elections and $60 million investing in IT to run the new council and its support structures.

It's expensive but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the more than $2 billion that the councils across Auckland now spend in a year. It's a drop in the ocean compared to the costs of leaving Auckland governance broken.

Critics are now making up claims on redundancy costs. First, no one knows what the costs will be.

Second, we are following a respectful process with existing council staff. The harsh reality is there are clearly going to be instances of duplication that will necessitate job losses.

We need to work through the process. Aucklanders can be well proud of the professionalism and competence of council staff.

They have maintained service levels and been planning for Auckland's new future. They have done so in the face of considerable personal uncertainty.

Their dedication does Auckland proud and bodes well for the future.

Yes, sadly, there will be redundancy costs. Not everyone will be needed.

But contracts agreed by the existing councils will be honoured. There will clearly be substantial savings in the years ahead from the slimmed-down council.

The critics will tell you the council-controlled organisations, or CCOs, are an end to democracy as we know it.

For a start, Auckland already has 40 of them and the new Auckland council will be able to fire directors, open up meetings to the public and dictate the strategic objectives of each CCO to comply with the council's long-term plan.

Manukau swimming pools are run through a CCO. I doubt anyone paddling in the pools notices or considers Manukau Leisure Services a threat to life as they know it.

CCOs aren't something new. What's new is that they will be run under one council with increased transparency and accountability.

These same conspiracy theorists spread their doom-and-gloom message and point to water being in the gun for privatisation.

No. Watercare cannot be sold. The council can fold it back within its own embrace, but may not sell it to any other concern. That's the law!

And, water prices will be lower. Aucklanders will pay less because of the efficiencies that having one organisation - not eight - will bring.

Yet still they complain, still they protest, still they make their false accusation that hundreds of millions of dollars are being overspent. This is simply not true.

The royal commission that recommended the single council estimated the total cost of their proposed reforms to be between $120 to $240 million. They estimated it would take four years.

The transition cost by November 1 will be $94 million with a further $66 million required after that to complete the technology work programme. We are well under budget and doing the job in less than half the time.

It's a big job. But Aucklanders should be proud of council staff and the Transition Agency.

We are fixing Auckland's broken governance under budget and ahead of schedule. We are also delivering significant annualised savings.

But more than that, we are delivering a new council with a service culture. The new Auckland council will be putting the people and ratepayers of Auckland first.

Auckland's governance will be unified and forward-looking. The organisation's culture will be service focused.

There will be less duplication, less forms, less bureaucracy and less expense. And the winners will be Aucklanders.

For a hundred years, Wellington has set Auckland up to fail. We are now setting Auckland up to succeed.

- NZ Herald

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