David Marshall: Talking Points

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Several recent Letters to the Editor, and Talking Points have prompted me to respond to some of the points raised.

What is my background and why am I writing this? My local body background is I believe unique in Hawke's Bay _ Napier City Councillor, Hawke's Bay Regional Councillor and Hawke's Bay District Health Board member.

Along with chairmanship of a statutory health board, this has given me a lengthy period to observe the governance of Hawke's Bay.

I am neither wealthy nor a business person, and I am not standing for election in this year's local body elections. Like many others looking towards a better Hawke's Bay I am retired, but sad at some of the ongoing parochial attitudes we continue to observe.

As a city councillor and deputy mayor of Napier City from 1983-89, I saw firsthand the intense parochialism between Napier and Hastings in particular, and the almost complete absence of shared services. While there have been a few successes between the two cities, like the landfill project, the record is not convincing.

To those who keep advocating shared services between the two cities, I say _ why haven't these been promoted and put in place before now? What will suddenly change in the future to make this a reality?

Much is made of the differences between Napier and Hastings. Driving to work in Hastings everyday for the last eight years, I observed thousands of citizens of each city travelling to the other to work _ nearly 25 per cent of Napier's workforce work in Hastings. We shop, visit, work and use each other's cities.

To try to maintain some artificial barrier, be it commercial or any other, is flying in the face of reality. We are one community and more and more of us are recognising that fact. Many years ago, many Taradale and Havelock North residents were fearful of amalgamation with Napier and Hastings.

The reality has been a burgeoning of both those communities as part of a larger and vibrant adjacent city, and ongoing savings through not having to maintain separate small local bodies.

In 2002 district health Boards were established, and with my previous local government and governance background, I was elected to the HBDHB and appointed deputy chairman. The years as a DHB member gave me an excellent chance to see regional representation, governance and leadership in action, with a budget and combined staff numbers considerably in excess of all the current Hawke's Bay territorial local authorities combined.

The model of the HBDHB in my view is an excellent model for a Hawke's Bay Council, albeit with some obvious differences. The most important aspect of the HBDHB is having a single voice and advocate for the region's health needs and this has worked particularly well for Hawke's Bay, both locally and nationally.

When Napier Hospital closed in 1998, there was great bitterness at the loss of ``our hospital''. While the Regional Hospital in Hastings is not perfect, it is vastly better than having four separate hospitals. It has attracted specialist medical and nursing staff of the highest calibre, and a range of services impossible in separate smaller institutions. Questions have been raised about salaries of any future Hawke's Bay Council mayor, and council members. No one can quantify these at present.

However, clearly with one Hawke's Bay Council and a number of community boards, this must be less than is spent at present.

Reference is frequently made to the ``failure of amalgamation in Auckland''. The CEO Doug McKay has confirmed that a drop in staff numbers by 2000 in the first year of amalgamation produced savings of nearly $1 billion over 10 year, and rationalisation of services would generate a further $1.7 billion savings over the same 10 years. This will allow capital investment in Auckland to double from $1 billion to $2 billion per year.

This has also provided a rate increase of 3.6 per cent as opposed to 5.7 per cent which had previously been budgeted for. These figures have been approved and audited by Audit New Zealand. Hardly a failure.

Perhaps the most disturbing claim being made, and repeated, is that ``amalgamation will be forced on us''. Nothing could be further from the truth. A proposal has been put to the Local Government Commission. Any other group is able, and encouraged, to do the same.

When all such proposals have been considered, the Local Government Commission will put forward a proposal for public consultation. A region-wide referendum will be called for before any decision is made, and ALL interest groups are supporting a referendum.

Thirty years of active local body and community involvement has convinced me that there has to be a better way to govern Hawke's Bay than the present system, and to represent the region and advocate for it on the national stage. I believe a Hawke's Bay Council is that better way.

David Marshall is a retired Napier dentist. He was awarded the ONZM in 2003 for services to local government and the community.

Organisers, experts in their field and interest groups are invited to contribute opinions for this column. Email to: editor@hbtoday.co.nz

- Hawkes Bay Today

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