Fran O'Sullivan on business

Business analysis and comment from Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan

Fran O'Sullivan: Mixed result on mayor's performance

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Len Brown vigorously promotes Auckland but debatable how much his ability to be cheerleader is now compromised.

Brown outlined "Six Strategies for 2014" - an indication that he does measure up on Clark's second point, writes O'Sullivan. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Brown outlined "Six Strategies for 2014" - an indication that he does measure up on Clark's second point, writes O'Sullivan. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Greg Clark - feted as an international cities expert - laid out a 10-point plan when he talked to the Herald in 2010 about a recipe for Auckland's success.

This was on the eve of the election for the first mayor of Auckland to preside over the new Super City.

Clark's "10 habits for a successful mayor" are worth reprising as the hapless Len Brown sets about trying to redeem himself in citizens' eyes.

Clark said the mayor had to:
1. Vigorously promote Auckland's image and identity.
2. Plan actions and set priorities.
3. Not spread the jam too thin.
4. Be collaborative.
5. Focus on delivery.
6. Be open-minded.
7. Raise the investment rate.
8. Be willing to create new entities to deliver priorities if no willing entity exists.
9. Be prepared to change the rules.
10. Pursue re-election without compromising the task at hand.

While debate continues over Brown's extracurricular activities - in particular his freebie stays at SkyCity Hotel and the extent to which any anonymous contributors to his electoral trust expect payback through specific policy direction - it's worth looking at how he measures up on the 10 points.

It's fair to say that Brown has vigorously promoted Auckland's image and identity. But it's also debatable to what extent Brown's ability to be the city's chief cheerleader is compromised by the recent scuttlebutt.

Brown's team - most of whom are said to be on the usual shorter-term contracts that go with working for politicians - are working hard to keep their boss in play.

But the mayor does not help himself when he chooses to claim that Aucklanders just want him to get on with the job for which he was elected. That is patently not correct. As the Herald's pre-Christmas polls indicated, a great number simply prefer him to make a dignified exit.

On Monday, Brown outlined "Six Strategies for 2014" - an indication that he does measure up on Clark's second point.

He'll be tempting a row with the Beehive - in particular John Key's Cabinet ministers - if he tries to bring forward building the city rail link to 2016.

No prime minister wants a discredited Auckland mayor raining on their parade in election year by trying to up the ante and push the Government into endorsing his plan - unless of course the numbers do stack up.

When it comes to avoiding spreading the jam too thinly, it makes sense for Brown to set about keeping the rates rise to a 2.5 per cent average ceiling.

But let's make clear this is still a rates rise. It is clearly not delivering lower rates as Brown claimed on Monday. Moving to more sustainable debt is laudable but let's make crystal clear that the increased debt has been created under Brown's leadership.

If the Auckland Council - that is the councillors - were up to it they could insist on a localised version of the "fiscal responsibility" policies that make central government spending plans more transparent - to ensure they do not continue to get run over by the mayor in this area.

When it comes to collaboration - Clark's fourth point - the mayor could start with his own council members. There is nothing in his six-point strategy article that even acknowledges they might also have other ideas and priorities, not just his.

This is rather dangerous for the mayor given the councillors' ultimatum to him to be more inclusive and not to present them with fait accompli decisions such as his living wage deal for staffers which was shot down late last year.

Brown does need to up his game when it comes to focusing on delivery. But it's also an area where central government could usefully demand more accountability given that taxpayers are going to have to pony up considerable cash to fund Brown's pet transport policies.

Open-minded? Really? Learning to listen would help.

Raising the investment rates and being willing to create new entities are to some degree covered by the public-private partnerships (PPP) the mayor included in his six strategies.

EY (formerly Ernst Young) reported on PPPs to the mayor's office late last year.

Brown has indicated SkyPath, wi-fi, waste management, the city rail link, and other major transport projects as candidates. But let's ensure here they are appropriately costed and contracted.

Auckland Council needs to apply just as much rigor as Treasury does for central government initiated PPPs. When it comes to commercial sponsorships again it's that transparency question.

Are the sponsorships and PPPs properly advertised with request for proposals required and assessed in a competitive bid process before final decisions are made?

Clark wanted the mayor to be prepared to change the rules. Councillors would wish he simply lived within the rules and did not operate in a way that would be unacceptable for staffers.

On the final Clark measure Brown has failed.

He successfully pursued re-election. But he compromised the task at hand. This will handicap Brown as he endeavours to pursue his two remaining strategies - ensuring more affordable housing and a plan for economic growth.

Brown plans to launch what is in effect an action plan developed by Ateed (Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development) in the next fortnight. If he wants to build credibility it is important that he also creates space for Auckland's broader leadership to play a part in that endeavour.

Next week Clark will be in Auckland for a round of seminars with Ateed, the council's Planning Office and the Auckland Business Advisory Panel on the way forward.

At a breakfast seminar convened by panel chairman Michael Barnett next Wednesday, business leaders will give their input into "A Shared Economic Agenda for Auckland". This is essential if business players are to play their role in stimulating growth and employment in the city.

Brown will build respect if he allows them to do that rather than simply hog the limelight.

Clark's 11th point for a successful mayor should be just that.

- NZ Herald

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