Saturday, March 6, 2010

Frank Newman: Super city contagion

The super city contagion is spreading. Now the three councils north of the super city boundary are voluntarily entering into “public consultation” about devolving the Northland Regional Council into the local authorities to create either one or two larger councils from the four.

The move is a good case study of how vested interests seize opportunities to hitch their wagon onto the political movements of the day. I know the local political scene and the personalities involved well enough to know that the local government amalgamation agenda in Northland is nothing more than an raid on the asset rich Northland Regional Council. It’s a Genghis Khan rape and pillage type raid, without the screaming and bloodletting.

Unlike the district councils (the Far North and Whangarei District councils in particular) the Regional Council is asset rich, worth $127m, including a 52% stake in Northland Port Corporation.

Getting their sticky fingers onto those assets is an easy way out for the spendthrift councils to get out of the financial hole caused by the reckless spending, incompetence, and poor management of their previous administrations. (To be fair, that’s not the fault of the incumbent mayors. I know both are prudent financial managers, unlike those that preceded them.)

My point here is not to condemn the rationalisation; it’s merely to demonstrate how local government is manipulated - all under the guise of “the public good”. The public good argument is of course nonsense political talk. Very little of what is done by local government is in the public good. It’s generally for the good of the staff, or the vested interests of those on councils, or the many lobby groups that recognise our all powerful local councils as the weakest link.

Personally I think bigger councils are not a solution to the failings of local government. The problem is not their size, it’s that they have been given the powers of general competence when it is competence that’s lacking.


Anonymous said...

This exact scenario is being repeated by some political manipulators here in Hawkes Bay.
The Hastings council has run up so much debt ($120m and rising) that the Mayor sees the solution is to amalgamate so it can get its hands on the regional council assets to bail it out.
I completely agree that it is the power of general competence that is the problem and can't understand why the legislation was not first up for repealing.

Sally said...

A huge concern is the revelation from public watchdog Penny Bright that “nobody’ who is “anybody” has carried out a ‘cost-benefit analysis’ for the Super-City CCO model. The powers that be that have rammed the process through are unable to corroborate its ‘cost-effectiveness.’

It is unbelievable to find that:
the Royal Commission didn’t do one – ignored their ‘terms of reference.’

neither did the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA)

or the Office of the Auditor General (OAG)

or Treasury or the State Services and all eight Councils in the Auckland region.

What is going on, that this has been allowed to happen with billions of ‘public’ money and 'public' assets involved?

Nobody in the private sector would invest billions of ‘their’ private money into a concept that was not supported with robust data and certainty.

The Local Government Act 2002 is quite clear in the principle that “a local authority should ensure ‘prudent’ stewardship and the efficient and effective use of its resources in the interests of its district and region." This along with democratic local decision-making has been totally ignored.

One has to strongly question what is the purpose of organisations such as the Office of Auditor General, Department Internal Affairs, Local Government NZ, Society of LG Managers, Transparency International NZ?

It is clear that these organisations are turning a blind eye to what should be prudent stewardship, fiscal responsibility and due diligence of public assets and monies.