On the eve of election time in Auckland, it should be a time for hope - a time to look forward to a better place to live and work and play.

Would that it were such a time. It is not.

There still lingers an illusion that Aucklanders are voting for a more efficient form of local government. It is inferred by the grandiose but ultimately meaningless title Local Government Minister Rodney Hide dubbed this project: "Making Auckland Greater."

The question I have been asked repeatedly over these past few months of rampant and radical change: "Will my rates be cheaper?"


The answer is no, your rates will not go down.

How can I be sure?

Exactly four years ago that question was asked by Local Government NZ, the umbrella group for councils and the like. The answer was provided by McKinlay Douglas Ltd, a Tauranga-based consultancy.

The key question was: "Improved efficiencies - to what degree has local government amalgamation contributed to efficiency?"

Twenty-five years after major amalgamations of local government across New Zealand in 1989, there was plenty of fodder for the McKinlay Douglas report. It also looked at international situations which had been similarly merged and had time to bed in.

It found: "Rather than economies of scale providing a rationale for amalgamation, the weight of evidence suggests both that larger authorities may be less efficient, and that the better means of seeking economies of scale is to do so on a service by service basis - whether through collaboration, joint ventures, outsourcing or other means."

Less efficient.

Even worse, the McKinlay Douglas report finds large councils can suffer from "dis-economies of scale".

This is when the scale of a council grows so large that a level of extra middle managers must be hired to handle the frontline staff.

Another unfortunate outcome from dis-economies of scale is that it makes it tougher for elected members to monitor performance of council services.

Nor will a larger council necessarily get better deals when buying equipment or services for the region.

Says a briefing paper from Local Government NZ after the McKinlay Douglas study: "A joint Italian/English study of procurement found that larger public bodies paid more for the same basket of goods than smaller public bodies, proving some evidence to the dis-economies of scale argument."

Concludes the Local Government briefing: "In short, large is not necessarily more efficient.

"Small councils can arrange their affairs to achieve economies of scale through shared services while maintaining strong democratic control.

"Similarly, large councils can become very bureaucratic, cumbersome and responsive as elected members find it more difficult to monitor the performance of their staff."

These are the elected members you will be looking for in the list of names on your ballot sheets next week.

So a five-year-old report from a Tauranga-based consultancy cries the sky is falling. Why should we take any notice?

Because recent evidence is even more compelling and closer to home that McKinlay Douglas was right.

A couple of weeks ago, a university professor who has been intimately involved in Auckland's development over the past decade launched a largely unnoticed broadside at what he describes as the demolition of local government in Auckland.

Almost unreported, yet just as concerning, Professor Ian Shirley, Pro-Vice Chancellor of AUT University, and Professor of Public Policy with the University's Institute of Public Policy addressed the National Policy Makers Conference 2010 in Wellington on August 17.

A current member of the Auckland Regional Economic Development Forum, Professor Shirley maintains the proposed model for the structure of Auckland's governance effectively removes local government from Auckland.

He argues that local government in Auckland will be replaced with "a corporate structure where the major beneficiaries will be the exclusive brethren of big business, merchant bankers and a narrow range of consultants dominated by legal and accountancy firms".

Sound familiar? Those who cast an eye over The Aucklander's article titled "The Secret Seven" recently will find it very familiar.

Professor Shirley says the Minister of Local Government's plan is a badly conceived strategy that effectively undermines local government in Auckland.

"It ignores history, fails to connect in any meaningful way with the diverse populations and neighbourhoods of the region and has established a corporate framework and process that will not gain the trust of ratepayers," Professor Shirley says.

According to Professor Shirley the policies are driven by a form of economic fundamentalism which equates "governance" with managing a "business" and reduces democracy to a token engagement in the decision-making systems of local and regional government.

Professor Shirley says the 21 local boards proposed will be toothless.

"The current prescriptions for these boards and the minimal allocation of support services make it clear that the boards will be largely irrelevant in decision-making."

Further, 75 per cent of Auckland's public assets will be transferred to Council Controlled Organisations with the majority of directors for the CCOs appointed by government ministers.

"In this case, CCO's stand for Corporate Controlled Organisations, with the elected members on local boards having little say over how those assets are used," he says.

Auckland's multi-cultural populations have no structural form of representation within the uber-city.

There have been major changes in Auckland's population over the past two decades, with nearly one quarter of all children under 10 living in Pacific households.

Although Mayoral candidates have proposed the establishment of advisory boards for children as well as other specific population groups, Professor Shirley dismisses these proposals as 'clip-ons' controlled by Wellington.

"Overall the proposed new structure for Auckland's governance fails to address the distinctive characteristics of Auckland, its population profile, and its potential."

Put together, the lessons learned from major amalgamations 25 years ago and the international experiences since, with the latest advice from a leading expert in the field say: "You are voting for a less efficient council and with much less say."

Those who have raised their hands for a role in the new "Greater" Auckland claim they are up to this task.

Whether they are or not, remains with you, the voter to hazard a guess. There's power in your choice, it is all the power you have left for the rising amount of money you will be forking out for it. Use it wisely.

- Edward Rooney is Chief Reporter of The Aucklander