Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is promising a review of council-controlled organisations if he is re-elected in October, but has no fixed plans to axe any of the unelected bodies which are becoming more and more unpopular.

In his first election policy since announcing a bid for a second term two months ago, Goff said he plans to appoint four independent people to review the CCOs at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"In 2020 it will be a decade since the Super City was established. It's the right time to do a stocktake on what's working for our city and our people, and what's not," he said.

I do not want to see any more examples of CCOs being unresponsive to communities and their concerns

The CCOs, which have been trimmed from seven to five - Auckland Transport, Watercare, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), Regional Facilities Auckland and Panuku Development Auckland - were set up in 2010 by National and Act to run most services for the Super City along commercial lines at arm's length from politicians.

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Each CCO has a board of unelected directors appointed by the governing body, a team of executives and staff. For example, Auckland Transport spends $477,000 on director fees and $4.4 million on executive salaries.

Goff said the CCOs deserved credit for many accomplishments, but there had been blurred lines of accountability and they had not always understood the need to carry communities with them.

In the last month, the Mayor has torn strips off Auckland Transport publicly and behind closed doors over its bungling of road safety improvements in St Heliers and refusal of chief executive Shane Ellison to front a public meeting attended by more than 600 locals.

"I do not want to see any more examples of CCOs being unresponsive to communities and their concerns. The purpose of the CCO review is to ensure that stops happening," he said.

A recent furore over safety improvements in St Heliers has landed Auckland Transport in trouble with Phil Goff.
A recent furore over safety improvements in St Heliers has landed Auckland Transport in trouble with Phil Goff.

In an interview with the "Herald", Goff refused to accept blame for the poor performance of the CCOs after setting out clear expectations to the board chairs at the start of his mayoralty in 2016, including the need to be transparent and accountable to customers and politicians.

Goff said the Letters of Expectations to the CCOs had evolved, become stronger and council oversight had improved in areas like shared services.

When it comes to reducing the number of CCOs, Goff said all five had a function to fulfil under the current structure but that would be looked at under the review.

He also wanted the fundamental question of whether there should be CCOs or should their work be done by council addressed by the review.

Goff said the cost of the review was not a $5 million Royal Commission that led to the set-up of the Super City, but was focused and would be conducted within 12 months of the new term of council.

"If you are going to do these things, you do them well. I'm imagining the cost of this will be six figures, in the hundreds of thousands, but I don't have a clear idea of that until we do the spade work," he said.

Goff said because legislative change would be needed to implement reforms, the council would consult and work closely with the Government as well as community groups, business and mana whenua.

"The review will examine how the CCOs have been operating and what reforms may be required to ensure we achieve the right balance between operational independence and being properly responsive to the community and elected representatives," he said.

Phil Goff and CCOs

April, 2010:

As Leader of the Opposition, Goff said the CCOs were a "clique of cronies" with the "odds stacked against the super mayor and councillors being able to hold these mega-companies to account".

October 2016: On coming to office, Goff chose not to reappoint two councillors to the board of Auckland Transport, the only CCO with politicians on the board.

November 2016: Goff slams Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) for spending $500,000 on a branding project and promising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Joseph Parker boxing fight.

December 2016: Goff writes a Letter of Expectation to each CCO chair telling them "to take active steps to build cultures and behaviours within their organisations that reinforces accountability to the council" and "the public has a reasonable expectation CCOs will be responsive to their customers, and to Auckland's elected members".

July 2018: Auckland Council Investments Ltd - the smallest CCO with two staff that managed council's shares in Auckland Airport and Ports of Auckland - is dis-established and brought in-house. Auckland Council Property Ltd and Waterfront Auckland were earlier merged under Mayor Len Brown to form Panuku.

May 2019: Goff announces independent review of CCOs.