Mark Donnelly: Devolution key to success

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Mark Donnelly says Auckland does not want a new mayor and council neutered from day one.

Photo / Martin Sykes
Photo / Martin Sykes

Many people were worried about the Super City and losing control of their local environment and communities to a super-sized Auckland bureaucracy.

But what is happening is worse - we're losing control to Wellington bureaucrats and politicians. Wellington has taken over with its Transition Agency and its Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) where they appoint their directors. Governments are used to using appointments to put "their" people in place to implement their wishes.

Many people have rightly highlighted the dangers in so many council functions going off to unaccountable organisations, which will run major aspects of Auckland on a day-to-day basis, away from public scrutiny.

This worsens the multitude of councils and organisations in Auckland.

We will be getting CCO fiefdoms, each with their own chief executive, directors and staff. All the present plans do is replicate the current silo mentality and imbed it with powerful bureaucracies.

The winners after amalgamation will be the lawyers and consultants, trying to figure how the system can be made to work. Rather than fighting between councils, we will see patch protection from CCOs, each, no doubt, with their own lawyers and interpretations of their powers.

The natural tendencies of bureaucracies are to grow and expand their powers and to resist oversight and control.

In my mind the whole point of the governance review was to unify Auckland and put good ongoing governance in place. So far the Government has fallen well short.

Rather than allow the new mayor and council to take control, they seem determined to run Auckland from Wellington, and to tie up the new council in knots from day one.

Almost all council projects will involve the council and at least two or three CCOs.

As an example, consider a new rail station in Onehunga. The Transport Agency controls the station and road building. But a station has a wider context. The Economic Development CCO would have a strategy for the business opportunities in the wider area, and have views on the best location.

And the council would have responsibility for the broader land use planning, eg, how a station interacts with other land uses (retail, residential etc). The council would be the entity to purchase adjoining land for a carpark or open space, change a district plan and consider the urban design elements.

The proper process is for projects to be fully controlled by council committees, which gives citizens full public access to the process - to comment and influence.

Local boards also need to have a meaningful role in these projects. Once the plan has been approved the CCOs should pick up the implementation role for their part of the project.

CCOs are appropriate as implementation bodies where well formed policies and prioritised projects are in place. They can be governed through an annual statement of intent, which sets agreed roles and tasks and is then held accountable by their shareholder the council.

This allows external directors to bring expertise to bear on the implementation of the council's plans.

However, the policies of the new council are best developed holistically within a central organisation, able to bring a multi-discipline approach to issues. Policies are then decided by your elected representatives - this allows public scrutiny and input.

So what is the solution? The Auckland council must have full control over how CCOs are used from day one. We can't have the current bill mandating all transport and roading to the Transport Agency - the new council must decide what parts of this the CCO should do.

We can't have legislated objectives set by Wellington - again the council must decide these. The council must appoint the chairperson - rather than it be left to other directors as proposed. They must also be able to remove and appoint directors from day one.

A minimum number of CCOs should be established before the new council. It needs to be able to review the CCOs inherited from the Transition Agency, and to modify and enforce the statements of intent. The new council needs to be able to have full control over these organisations.

If the new mayor and council don't have full control, how can they be accountable? We don't want a mayor and council that have been neutered from day one.

We've seen the unseemly battle between Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee and the ARTA on the appropriate Newmarket rail configuration - similar battles will not be a good start for the new Auckland council.

People have spoken clearly of their desire for meaningful roles for local boards. I suggest the select committee also needs to change the CCO structures if Auckland is to have any chance of making this restructure work.

* Mark Donnelly is an independent Auckland City councillor and a former chairman of the strategy and governance committee.

- NZ Herald

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