Don't pay! That's my advice to Auckland City councillors if the latest pro-super city report is all they're getting for the $410,000 bill from consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers et al. Anyone looking for a reasoned argument in favour of radical reform to put before the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance will be disappointed. Instead we get a rewrite of the "Return to Year One" revolutionary thoughts, certain captains of industry have long been clamouring for, accompanied by a mix of slogans and wishful thinking.
Where there is an attempt to justify something, the supporting material is at times so politically one-sided, or plain wrong, it further devalues the whole document.
For example, the authors use the waterfront stadium fiasco as a case for strong regional governance. Letting their prejudices hang out, the city bureaucrats complain that this "meritorious attempt" failed "because there was no single regional voice. In addition, the regional council's decisions were largely driven by its ownership interests rather than transport interests".
My memory is that we did have a regional voice on this occasion which thankfully said no thanks. And what's the dig on "ownership interests" about? Elsewhere, we're told the proposed reforms are needed to arrest declining public involvement in local decision making as evidenced by low turnout at the October 2007 elections. But turnout is declining all over the country, not just in the Auckland region.
Don't get me wrong. At a gut level I believe in the need for strengthened regional government, though not in the blitzkreig manner proposed by city hall. But before any major restructuring takes place, it does seems rather crucial to have the evidence to back the gut feeling. And there's nothing of this in the officers' report, just starry-eyed mantras.
"To address the region's issues and the vision to be an international city-region, a bold change to existing governance is required. Tinkering with current arrangements, as evidenced over the 19 years since the amalgamations, will not create the step change that the region and the country needs and deserves." Why not?
The one-city model proposed "has been developed through the integration of international best practice, local environment and experience and mechanisms to address the six key drivers necessary for success". Blah de blah. The key drivers referred too are yet another list of slogans about working together, thinking regional and so on and on. Rather scarily, in the small print, there's a hint that some hobby horses just can't be dispatched to the knacker's yard. In a chart describing "infrastructure delivery options" there's a reference to the "private sector" being involved in the delivery of water.
But getting back to the evidence. Or lack of it. Up until now, the case for regionalism has been more about faith than rational argument.
In limited areas, a convincing, evidence-based argument has been developed. Local arts and service organisations, for example, have made a persuasive case for a regional umbrella organisation to ensure equitable funding for organisations that serve the whole region.
Over the years, several expert studies have been prepared showing that amalgamating the water and wastewater services of the region into one integrated company would result in great savings. In 2002, a report commissioned by the region's councils calculated these savings at 20 per cent.
But there's not a shred of evidence presented to back the super-city dream. The report authors seem blissfully unaware - or have chosen to ignore - the only scientific analysis of the 1989 round of Auckland local government amalgamations. That's when Auckland's 29 local councils were reduced to seven. The study by University of Auckland Business School's Paul Rouse and Martin Putterill was published in 2005.
Professor Rouse told me in August last year that in 1989 he "believed amalgamation was a good thing". But his research, 15 years later, shows otherwise. He now believes in the need for a regional council as at present but is "unconvinced about the merits and accountability of amalgamating the existing territorial local authorities into an even bigger authority".
Amazingly, this study was the first and apparently the only one that has come up with hard evidence about the 1989 revolution. The Auckland City report is not evidence based, it's just opinion, flossied-up with charts to look authoritative.
I have faith that the commissioners will see this report for what it is - the opinions of power-hungry senior bureaucrats. If they want the facts, they're going to have to do their own research.