The Government have been criticised a lot lately for setting up myriad advisory committees, boards and new governance entities.

On one hand, one might argue they are in charge, we put them there, and they (politicians in particular) should be competent enough to make decisions on our behalf - so why do we need all these committees, advisory groups, research reports and so on?

On the other hand, the wider notion of governance recognises that government in all its guises does not always have all the answers. Sometimes politicians need help. That's healthy, but let's be consistent.

Governance in the public sector is both an art and a science, and we are still learning. A constant balancing act between probity, representation and competency. We know there is just as much chance of government failure as there is of market failure, so competent people in the right places please.


Before Auckland amalgamated one of the key messages from protagonists was that there needed to be a better partnership between Wellington and Auckland in the governance of Auckland. There was recognition that Wellington makes decisions that have dramatic effects on Auckland - social development, welfare, immigration, housing, interest rates, trade and economic development to name a few.

There was also the view that local government in Auckland was often at odds, with different local rules and regulations and serious institutional constraints on the ability to work together at a regional level.

A more cohesive approach was needed to address key issues affecting New Zealand's fastest growing city-region. Unfortunately, we got an amalgamation of local government rather than serious thought about the functions that should be delivered regionally, and by whom. If improved governance had been the question it would have led to different answers. However not all was lost.

One step forward was one unitary plan.

Another was a series of council-controlled organisations (CCOs) set up to perform significant regional functions such as transport, water, regional economic development and urban development. The main reason you put functions at arm's-length in CCOs is to operate amidst complexity and competing interests, with fit-for purpose governance, in the public interest.

An example is Auckland Transport. The AT board has six to eight members, two of whom can be Auckland Council members, one non-voting member from the New Zealand Transport Authority (central Government) and the balance from outside government with high-level governance or transport expertise. Better than before, and improving.

Panuku is Auckland Council's urban development organisation, formed in 2015 by the amalgamation of Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties. It similarly has a fit-for-purpose board and is a doer not a policy maker.

It was recently criticised for legally challenging an Environment Court decision where the complainant, the Auckland Council, is its parent. I guess we'll find out who is right and mayor Phil Goff is right to challenge his family of organisations to be more aligned so as not to spend ratepayers' money with lawyers.


At the time of amalgamation there were about 200 legal challenges between local government entities across Auckland. Auckland Council, Panuku; not perfect, but better than before.

Fast forward to 2018 and Housing Minister Phil Twyford has suggested there needs to be an Urban Development Authority in Auckland run by a new central government department, superseding Auckland's Unitary Plan in the interests of addressing Auckland's housing shortage.

Auckland's urban planning, like transport, is primarily Auckland's gig. It is hard to see how more layers from Wellington, whether policy makers or deal makers or both, is helpful.

Here's a thought, extend Auckland's governance over its own affairs and use the institutions already in place. We're getting better at metropolitan governance - keep going.

There's a lesson here; regional and local governance are important to our system of government.

■ Dr David Wilson is the chief executive of Northland's economic development agency, Northland Inc, and chair of Economic Development NZ. His doctoral research was on governance and economic development in Auckland. Wilson was the NZ First candidate for the seat of Te Atatu, Auckland, in last year's general election.