Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

City to assess how well its subsidiaries are working

Ratepayers will find out if they still have to deal with eight sets of bureaucracy.

Auckland mayor Len Brown. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland mayor Len Brown. Photo / Richard Robinson

Will Aucklanders be able to pay their rates and water bills at the same time and ring one telephone number to report a pothole or a noisy party?

Those are among the questions the Auckland Council will grapple with as it embarks on a review of its seven council-controlled organisations, or CCOs.

Three years after the commercially focused CCOs were set up to run about 75 per cent of Super City services, the council has decided to take a good look at how the model is working and what needs to change.

There is a lot to consider at a strategic level, but also at ground level where ratepayers have to deal with eight different sets of bureaucracy.

For a full copy of the council current state assessment of the CCOs, go to:
infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

Councillors have been surveyed on their thoughts and are generally happy with the model working at arm's length from City Hall, but also feel that seven CCOs may be too many.

A Herald review of the CCOs at the two-year mark in 2012 revealed a school of thought that the number of CCOs could be reduced from seven to four with Auckland Council Investment brought in-house, and mergers between Regional Facilities Auckland/Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), and Waterfront Auckland/Auckland Council Property.

When the issue came up at last Thursday's governing body meeting, there was not a mood among councillors for wholesale change. It was not a broken ship, said councillor Chris Darby, but an opportunity to refine the ship.

The review, headed by new chief executive Stephen Town, will look at whether there is a need to change the scope and activities and functions within the CCOs, which are responsible for everything from public transport, water, the waterfront, and big events such as the NRL League Nines and this weekend's Pasifika festival.

At last Thursday's meeting, councillor Cathy Casey got an amendment passed adding the words "whether any CCO activity/function would be better delivered by council or by a different or amalgamated CCO" into the review. This was much clearer, she said, than the weasel words in the terms of reference.

One issue the review will take a close look at is overlapping responsibilities between the CCOs.

One example of this is the plan to turn Quay St into a pedestrian boulevard. Auckland Transport has overall responsibility but Waterfront Auckland, Regional Facilities Auckland and Ateed all have an interest in the project as do the council, Waitemata Local board and the council's city transformation team.

The overlaps are being addressed by a new group, the city centre integration group.

The marketing and delivery of events is another area where Ateed, Regional Facilities Auckland and the council overlap.

A "current state assessment" of the CCOs, which interviewed council staff, elected representatives, CCO directors and staff found a range of views on what was working well, what wasn't and teased out issues and opportunities.

The overall view from the council was the CCOs had been a large part of important progress made by the Super City in the first three years, including the development of the Auckland waterfront, big events and securing government support for the city rail link. The CCOs' overall view was that the model was working well at a structural level, but there was a lack of understanding or acceptance within the ranks of the council, councillors and local board members about the respective roles of management, governance and ownership.

Communication between the council and CCOs was another common theme, as was the view that councillors took the rap when CCOs stuffed up, such as over mowing berms (Auckland Transport) and demolishing the Japanese Garden at Auckland Zoo (Regional Facilities).

On the other hand, the CCOs said councillors often confused their role and got involved in their operations. One instance cited was a councillor objecting to Auckland Transport choosing the colour of street signs.

The CCOs said they were mindful of a "no surprises" policy with the council but it was not always reciprocated as happened when Mayor Len Brown made public comments about the proposed port expansion.

The review is expected to take 18 months to coincide with the new long-term plan. The timetable is a year longer than an election promise by Mr Brown to complete a CCO review by June of this year.

On Thursday, he said he was keen to move at pace "but like everyone you are entitled to review your view".

- NZ Herald

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