The Royal Commission on Auckland Governance was unequivocal about the way in which council-controlled organisations should function in the Super City framework. The incoming Auckland Council should, it said, "ensure that CCOs are able to operate on an independent and professional basis". By and large, that tenet has been met, and the commercially focused CCOs, which run 75 per cent of council functions, and the people of Auckland have reaped the benefits. Most core services have continued without a hiccup and many have become more efficient. This record of success suggests any substantial adjustment to the way the CCOs operate would be premature and ill-advised.
Change, however, could be a consequence of a council review of the seven CCOs. The danger is that they could find themselves being able to do less without council approval. Hopefully, that will not happen. Councillors appear generally happy with the way the model is working at arm's length from City Hall. But some are clearly tempted to reduce the number of CCOs, and believe some of their activities would be better handled by the council.
There will always be tension between elected politicians and the unelected boards of directors running the CCOs. Some politicians will be loath to stick to developing policies, strategies and plans to drive the city forward, and leave the nuts and bolts to the CCOs. The urge to become more involved becomes all the greater when they take the criticism for an erring CCO, as with the debacle over the mowing of berms.
But such complaints must be balanced against the overall record of the framework. It was expected that the professional directors of the CCOs would introduce greater operational efficiency, commercial disciplines and specialist expertise. In that, they have succeeded, fulfilling the royal commission's expectation that they would enable the council to "access the best commercial and engineering expertise and resources".
Aucklanders are well aware of some of the success stories. Obvious ones are Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development's creation of a vibrancy through the introduction of events such as the NRL League Nines, and the development of the waterfront. If there have been lapses, such as the berm issue and introduction of public transport's Hop Card, it is fair to assume that much worse occurred and could have been expected under the framework that preceded the Super City.
It has helped also that many of the worries about the CCOs have proved largely groundless. A leading issue was a supposed lack of public transparency. Some of the CCOs have been keen to stay out of the public eye, but this can go only so far when they are required to make two meetings a year open to the public, specifically those when consideration is being given to their draft statement of intent and their performance during the previous year.
If change is to be made, it could most usefully focus on communications, so CCOs better meet the council's policies. There will also be discussion of overlapping responsibilities between CCOs. Any problems with this, however, may be overemphasised. It has been comfortably addressed, for example, in the instance of plans to turn Quay St into a pedestrian boulevard. The several CCOs involved have joined the council and local board representatives in a new city centre integration group.
The council-controlled organisations have played a major role in bedding in the Super City and moving Auckland forward over the past three years. Greater council direction of their activities could threaten their effectiveness.
In time, some aspects of their operation may need to be refined. But in almost all aspects, now is too soon.