Anti-merger report author never visited Bay

By Simon Hendery

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The shake-up of Hawke's Bay councils continues to divide opinion, with Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack's (pictured) commissioned report costing $43,300.Photo/Duncan Brown.
The shake-up of Hawke's Bay councils continues to divide opinion, with Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack's (pictured) commissioned report costing $43,300.Photo/Duncan Brown.

The Australian author of a $43,000 Napier City Council report that takes a dim view of local body amalgamation has never visited Hawke's Bay.

Professor Brian Dollery's report, entitled "Bigger is Not Always Better", is being promoted by the anti-amalgamation council as providing evidence of why merging the region's local authorities is a bad idea.

However, it has been rejected as an exercise to meet a pre-determined agenda by amalgamation supporters.

Speaking from Japan yesterday, Professor Dollery said he had never been to Hawke's Bay.

"I've been to New Zealand many times but never to the east part of the North Island."

Professor Dollery did not elaborate on what effect this might have on the report.

The council's chief executive, Wayne Jack, said yesterday he commissioned the report from Professor Dollery within days of starting work at the council in early September.

He said he discussed the move with councillors and retiring mayor Barbara Arnott at the time but progressed the initiative himself because local body elections were looming.

"It was one of the first things I got onto because I saw it as important to get that information together because we knew that it was not too long before a proposal would come out from the Local Government Commission and so we needed to start gathering information so we could inform people of both sides of the story."

The commission's proposal, in favour of amalgamating Hawke's Bay's five councils, was released last week, prompting the council to distribute the Dollery report.

The mayors of three of the councils affected by the proposed merger - Napier's Bill Dalton, Central Hawke's Bay's Peter Butler and Wairoa's Craig Little - strenuously oppose amalgamation. Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule is a staunch advocate.

Fenton Wilson, chairman of the fifth council affected, Hawke's Bay Regional Council, has not expressed a strong view on the merger proposal although the regional council previously promoted the idea of an expanded regional council covering the east coast down to the Wellington area.

Mr Jack said yesterday the bill for the Dollery report was A$39,000 ($43,300).

He discussed commissioning it with the chief executives of the Wairoa, CHB and regional councils in September but had not requested that they contribute to its cost.

CHB District Council has subsequently agreed to pay $500 towards the report, but Wairoa and the regional council are not expected to contribute. Hastings District was not consulted.

"It wasn't so much the cost. It was about getting information out that would be used by all the region," Mr Jack said.

"We see this as being important for our community.

"We undertake a number of reports which we use to form the basis for further analysis and this is just one of those reports."

He said Professor Dollery had an international reputation for his work on local government amalgamation issues.

"He takes an approach where he looks at empirical data that comes out of amalgamations and then makes analysis around that."

Professor Dollery's 157-page report critiques two reports commissioned by Hawke's Bay Regional Council that have been used to promote the amalgamation option, along with a draft amalgamation proposal for the Northland region released by the Local Government Commission last month. The regional council reports, by Auckland-based consultant Peter Winder, forecast cost savings for Hawke's Bay under amalgamation.

But in his report, Professor Dollery criticises Mr Winder's analysis of the issues facing Hawke's Bay and his recommendations for improving the region's prosperity.

Mr Winder last week dismissed Professor Dollery's criticisms.

Mr Yule said Professor Dollery's views on amalgamation had been well known for several years.

"If people had wanted a peer review [of Mr Winder's reports] we could have all agreed on somebody and gone and got a peer review but I don't consider the Dollery report is independent enough because as soon as I knew who had written it I knew what it would say. So it's just another report in the mix of things."

Mr Jack said it was important to provide people with more information on the amalgamation issue.

"It's my job to gather information on both sides of the story so people understand it.

"To me it's a significant community engagement issue that we need to do."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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