Super City Auckland will have 21 local boards. But what will they do? Geoff Cumming unpicks the details
As Aucklanders struggle to get their heads around how the single council will work, the roles and resources of local boards are emerging as pivotal. But politicians eyeing board seats can get few answers about their responsibilities and likely budgets.
The 21 elected boards will oversee local services - operating at the level which brings most residents into direct contact with their council: getting potholes fixed, rubbish bins emptied, drains unblocked, dogs licensed and footpaths improved; looking after parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and libraries; building new ones.
Just how boards fare in the new "corporatised" council structure - dealing with both the council and its arms-length agencies on issues like local transport and water - will be as crucial to the success of the Government's experiment as the council's progress on big-ticket regional issues.
Back in February, when the Auckland Transition Agency released a discussion document on local boards, Labour MP Phil Twyford played on fears they would be as impotent as community boards are seen to be. He claimed local boards would "get to choose the colour of the carpet" and have to beg the council for funding.
With local roads and footpaths controlled by the Transport CCO, boards "won't be able to move a bus stop or paint a yellow line on the side of the road," said Labour's Auckland spokesman.
The select committee report on the third Auckland law reform bill (due on May 24) is not expected to define the powers of boards but the transition agency is clearly working to a blueprint in which local concerns are dealt with locally.
A "substantial number" of existing council staff will transfer to a local board services department, working from district offices around the region.
The theory is that the council will delegate most local issues to local boards, freeing the mayor and councillors to focus on "big picture" debates about regional growth, infrastructure needs and regional amenities. This will make the relationship between the bureaucracy and local boards critical. But what of the boards' relationships with CCOs?
Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says local boards will have significant funding and responsibilities. "The test will be: why shouldn't a local board be doing this?"
Local boards will prepare three-year plans and make their own resource allocation decisions, he says. "But we don't want to have competing silos, so ultimate responsibility will rest with the council."
Hide expects the select committee report to address Aucklanders' concerns about issues including: accountability and communication between boards, CCOs and the council; the ability of the council to control CCOs; and the responsibilities of local boards. He says CCOs would be foolish not to undertake meaningful consultation. But big unknowns remain, including:
* Local board funding levels;
* Where the line will be drawn between local and regional issues;
* How boards will work with the Transport and Water CCOs to get things done.
* The risk that the CCOs' focus on regional projects could squeeze funding for local needs.
Grant Taylor, the transition agency's governance adviser, says an information campaign to begin shortly should shed more light on the ways boards will work with the council and its CCOs. "The basic principle is that non-regulatory decisions are made by local boards unless it can be shown it's better made by [the council] because there are Auckland-wide benefits," he says.
Boards will prepare three-year plans with indicative budgets which will form part of the council's annual and long term plans. "There will obviously have to be three-way discussions between CCOs, the council and boards so budgets are lined up. "
The transition agency is using existing councils' long-term plans to prepare budgets for local services for the November 1-June 30 period.
Taylor says the water and transport CCOs will be obliged to consult with local boards in preparing plans and budgets and on major projects. "Where the threshold sits for saying 'that has to be built into a plan' I can't answer at the moment."
Council staff in local service centres will look after two to four boards each. Each will have a board relationship manager to ensure good "connections" with the council, CCOs and other agencies.
CCOs will also have teams dedicated to local services, including engineers for water and transport, and liaison officers who will attend local board meetings. Staff will be able to respond to issues such as repairing potholes without having to go through a political process, he says.
Auckland Transport will have a substantial budget for local maintenance but is also likely to delegate to boards. Many issues will be dealt with through call centres or online.
"The general policy is there will be no degradation of local services."
The council will have full service centres in Takapuna, Henderson, the central city and Manukau with local centres at Orewa, Waiheke, Papakura and Pukekohe. Neighbourhood service centres will continue at Warkworth, Huapai, Helensville, Great Barrier and Waiuku. Boards will hold meetings at service centres or local offices.
Taylor says the process of standardising fees means residents in many areas can expect to pay less for dealings ranging from dog registration to resource consent and building inspections. Standardisation of building control policies and application criteria will bring service improvements.