Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mike Butler: Bigger councils not always better

Hot on the success or otherwise of the creation of the Auckland Council, it appears the Local Government Commission is embarking on a cookie-cutter approach to solve real or imagined local authority under-performance by imposing merger schemes in the regions and in so doing conjuring up nominated Maori boards.

Hawke’s Bay is the most recent target of this initiative. On Tuesday, the Local Government Commission released a draft proposal to merge the region’s five local authorities – the Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, and Central Hawke’s Bay councils and the regional council -- into a single unitary Hawke’s Bay Council run by one mayor, nine councillors, five community boards, and a nominated Maori board.

The commission’s proposal was prompted by a plan put forward earlier this year by a lobby group named A Better Hawke’s Bay, which argued that merging the local authorities into a unitary council would deliver more effective decision making.

Three of the region's four mayors (Napier, Wairoa, and CHB) strongly oppose a merger, saying it would destroy the autonomy of local communities. For those readers unfamiliar with Hawke’s Bay, the Napier and Hastings are 20km apart with Wairoa 115km north of Napier and Waipukurau 50km south of Hastings.

Expert opinion has been brought in to bolster the cases for or against amalgamation.

Two reports funded by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and completed last year at a cost of over $60,000, by Peter Winder, a former chief executive of the former Auckland Regional Council, pointed to savings of $10.3-million a year and argued that amalgamation would establish a single voice for the region, provide a better relationship with central government to get more funding, reduce costs and improve performance of local government, and combine the financial strength of the region's authorities.

But the Napier City Council this week released a further 157-page report it commissioned from an Australian academic and consultant, Professor Brian Dollery, entitled Bigger Is Not Always Better, that critiqued two Winder reports, along with a draft amalgamation proposal for the Northland region released by the Local Government Commission earlier this month.

Professor Dollery says amalgamation scenarios outlined in the Winder reports and the Northland amalgamation proposal, "are not supported by available empirical evidence and past experience of compulsory council mergers".

He wrote that “a wealth of material” exists and shows that forced amalgamation seldom improves local government, “especially in non-metropolitan areas”, and said that effective regional leadership “is best fostered through the establishment of regional development bodies rather than divisive battles over forced amalgamation which typically results in the domination of regional areas by regional centres.

If, after public consultation, the Local Government Commission decides to press on with amalgamation in Hawke's Bay, that decision could be overturned by a regional referendum triggered by 10 percent of voters in any one of the council areas affected by the change signing a petition requesting a poll.

A quirk of the Hawke's Bay situation means that just two voters living on the remote boundary between the Hawke's Bay and Horizons regional councils could force an amalgamation referendum.

There are a few further points to consider regarding the Hawke’s Bay proposal that would probably equally apply in the Far North and Wellington, or in fact every other area:

1. No evidence has been offered on how a single mayor, nine councilors, five community boards and a Maori board would improve decision-making.

2. No evidence has been presented on how a super council is going to bring jobs and lift the economy when private business people are those who do the development and bring the jobs. Councils merely suck exorbitant consent fees, ground rent, and rates from private business people.

3. Evidence suggests that the existing set-up is already the most efficient from an economic viewpoint.

4. The amalgamated Auckland council is a vision of what lies ahead for our region. That amalgamation brings expensive pipe dreams (like Mayor Len Brown’s train set) funded by perpetual rates increases and reduced services (like Auckland’s un-mown berms).

5. The appointed Auckland Maori Statutory Board brought multi-million race-based demands and a proposal to require tribal consent in conjunction with building permits.

It is possible that much could be achieved by going in an opposite direction – by local authorities going smaller and contracting out services.

A future local authority structure could have fewer elected representatives around population centres, with small offices dealing with building consents, roads, sewage, water, parks and so on.

There are already numerous examples of local authorities that found that forced amalgamation just did not work for them so de-amalgamated. One United States municipality, Sandy Springs, Atlanta, found that their rates were going elsewhere in Atlanta so incorporated as a new local body in 2005.

In the absence of a structure to pave streets, pick up rubbish, maintain parks, as well as run police and fire services (which come under local authority control in the United States), the new local authority hired a private management company to employ subcontractors

The management company CH2M Hill did for $US25-million in the first year, a job that would cost a similar-sized local body $US50-million.

All of the functions local authorities perform could be contracted out with huge cost savings that should be passed on to ratepayers.

Bigger councils are not always better.

Super council proposal spat widens, H.B. Today, November 29, 2013.
Unhappy councils ordered second report on bay merger, Dominion Post, November 29, 2013.
Sandy Springs, Georgia: The City that Outsourced Everything,
Two voters may decide merger plan, H.B. Today, November 27, 2013.


Brian said...

I agree with Mike. "Big is not always better, in most cases its just bigger."

One has to look at the reason why the Local Government is opting for bigger and bigger councils?
From a governmental prospect it is much easier to control Local Government with say five Super Councils, than with our present set up. HERE THE OPERATIVE WORDS ARE, OF COURSE, CONTROL BY CENTRAL GOVERNMENT.
Examples of which can be found world wide especially in Socialist and Communist countries. It is the very essence of all dictatorships.

If we are to any impact on the outrageous spending and ever increasing rates forced upon us by Councils to cover more and more bureaucracy.
Then the answer has to be a Independent Local Government Commission to which a Committee of any dissatisfied ratepayers can appeal for justice against their local body over such matters.
The formation of Super Councils will deny any right of appeal by ratepayers due to the costs involved.
Freedom is indivisible, what affects one affects all.

Anonymous said...

Great summary Mike.
Whats is scary is that Mayor Yule said on National radio that one council would be better for economic development and better to deal with climate change.
Councils need to keep out of economic development.

Anonymous said...

The proper functions of Councils are roads, rats, rubbish and sewerage.

Anything else is Leftist control freakery and a complete waste of ratepayers' money.

Jon said...

Mayor Yule is renown for white elephant empire building.
If we are all equal in this wonderful country why then is there a need for a Maori Advisory component.
Auckland has one and they have proved themselves to obstructive and self obsessed.
Leave each council as individuals, any referendum will ensure that this remains the status quo.


Bryan Yates said...

The rot has already started. If you ring the council about a roading issue you are seamlessly passed to MWH the organisation that council has contracted to look after its (our) roads. MWH never announce themselves by organisational name and it is extraordainarily difficult to get a named contact in case you want to get back to them for follow up. The faceless nature of MWH is an example of why some council function should not be contracted out.

Arthur said...

laloreyou are right about bigger not necessarily being better. We have had the white water rafting fiasco foisted on us with the non elected Maori advisory members providing the weighting in the voting to get it passed otherwise it would have been lost. Also there are no Maoris in NZ only decedents of Maoris. The Ak Council in putting us into debt by $1 million each week. Soon most of our rates will have to go to service that debt, pay the council employee and there will be very little left


Anonymous said...

About 15 years ago, the two main Auckland non-tribal maraes took a case to the High Court to be recognised as the equivalent of a tribe. The reason for this was that a huge number of Maori people in South and West Auckland had, over the years, lost their tribal roots, and that the two maraes were thereby acting as de-facto tribes. The proposal was vehemently opposed by the established tribes, and the non-tribal group lost their case. The Maori advisory group in Auckland Council are non-elected, but who nominates them? Can it be that they are only nominated by the established tribes, and if this so, the huge numbers of Maoris in the Auckland area who have no tribal affiliation, will have no ethnic representation at Council. If that's what happened, it will have been a huge injustice to Maoris who came to Auckland from all over the country from the 1950's, and who formed the majority of the city's unskilled labour force. And it's been shown that many of these have lost their tribal roots. If they have never been granted any representation on Council, is the same going to happen in places like Wellington, where so many of the non-tribal-affiliated Maori people in Porirua and other suburbs may have no representation at Council level. I believe that if it's important to have Maori representation, it should be elected representation, and we should scrap the system where tribes simply nominate representatives from within their established tribes.

Rochelle said...

I agree with Mike. A good post.

All we hear about with the Auckland Super City are the concerns and plans for the CBD, central areas, and more roads out [and in].

There is pressure to amalgamate Wellington with Porirua, the Wairarapa, Kapiti up to Otaki... such divergent needs and interests.
There are other, better, ways to get better economic and social outcomes

Warren Sanderson said...

Although of a conservative view I did not appreciate Mike's reference to Mayor Brown's pipe dream train sets for several reasons. Firstly improved public transport will be essential for Auckland as it becomes New Zealand's only mega city. There is an extensive usable rail net work already in place and the City Rail Link is the keystone component to its most effective use with the elimination of the Britomart dead -end. The rail network has its own separate right of way and does not
have to fight congestion as is the case with buses. More motorways are not necessarily the best transport solution for cities and NZTA should pay the 50% Govt contribution and defer some of the expensive RoNS roading programme. Transit rail usage in Auckland has increased dramatically in the last eight years and will continue to do so when the new Electric Multiple Units come on stream. Unfortunately our transport infrastructure spend in Auckland has been overwhelmingly skewed toward roads since the mid 1950's
and we must restore some balance. Finally, this has become a party political issue in this country and it should not be.

Brian said...

Comment. Warren Sanderson.
While agreeing that Auckland needs a rapid rail transport system your demand that the Government through NZTA pay 50%, means in effect that the rest of us in N.Z. actually subsidize Auckland.
Is this cost effective when instead of promoting the growth of a city confined in geographical terms to a small isthmus? Surely an answer might be a ring of satellite commuter towns well outside of Auckland, or if the powerful transport lobby veto’s such an idea, then Park & Ride might indeed be a answer.
I would remind Mr. Sanderson that there are major transport factors restricting the growth of New Zealand outside the perimeters of our largest city. Namely Hawkes Bay/Gisborne, whose only access points are the Rimutuka Hill into Wellington; the Manawatu Gorge Road into the Manawatu, Napier/ Taupo & Gisborne/ Opotoki highways, all of which are subjected to climatic and geological closures.
They are virtually in essence 19th century entrances and exits; reflecting that political decisions on road construction and spending, are primarily made not on necessity, but on population numbers at election times.

Warren Sanderson said...

Brian: I disagree. The argument that the rest of the country is subsidising Auckland is spurious - there is information readily available that indicates that Auckland more than pays its way in the national tax take.
I would love the rest of New Zealand to grow faster but the fact is that Auckland is growing faster than the rest of New Zealand put together. People further down south don't seem to realise that. With the completion of the Waterview tunnel etc. we will have a very good motorway system around Auckland and the trick now is get better usage from it so that we don't have to provide more.The best option for extended use and long life of the motorway system is to get better utilisation of the lengthy existing (metro) rail transit system by building the City Rail Link ASAP. Aim - get 10% of the cars off the road but you need a good alternative. And the EMU's (57) are arriving each month as we write.
The most useless RoNS is the Puhoi to Wellsford at a scheduled cost of $1.7 billion(ITP) I acknowledge that I avoid using this road on 5 days a year but I have never been held up on any of the other 360. This will do little to help Northland - a saving of about 10 minutes in time - not worth $1.7 billion at this stage so defer.
Did you know that 41% of passenger journeys over the Harbour Bridge are made on the Northern Busway and that car crossings have been in slight decline for roughly 6 years now.
And I heard the Mayor of Porirua say on radio recently that the traffic count on State Highway 1 was also down in recent times.
Finally satellite commuter towns are not the answer - suggest read "The Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser

Brian said...

Regarding your statement that the rest of the country is NOT subsidizing Auckland this is merely academic, as we cannot do without each other i.e. Town plus Country.
It is Auckland’s vast appetite for internal consumption which drives it forward. Its contribution to export income is somewhat limited, especially so when most Western Countries are struggling to compete with Asian in the fields of manufacturing. Even Auckland's port has seen losses of cargoes since its recent Labour problems and congested transport access. From which Tauranga has benefited
It is noticeable that you have failed to answer the real crux of the question that places like Hawkes Bay/Gisborne suffer because the greatest amount of the financial cake is directed into Auckland coffers. Unless more is diverted into the infrastructure outside of the major cities, there will a considerable decrease in our financial revenue which will affect the creation of a Super Auckland City. (A fact which seems to have escaped the Green Party)
You dismiss satellite towns on the grounds of one book, in Auckland’s case there seems to be no viable alternative, unless Mr. Len Brown’s high rise construction blocks are the answer to his call for an extra million people in Auckland!
Having seen the results in social disorder with this sardine like structures in the U.K. and elsewhere; the question arises “Are we prepared to accept this sort of future housing” with its obvious consequences?
The real answer and one which faces all our Politicians, is one that they are never going to face up to; and that is to limit the size of Auckland.
This would be a case of Political suicide for any Parliamentary Party, and as the old adage says “Suicides never go to Heaven”.
Which in this case, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for us all!

Warren Sanderson said...

I agree that Town & Country cannot do without each other. And I agree that Auckland has a vast appetite for import consumption and particularly imported oil for all the cars here and even the vehicles themselves because in New Zealand we have a high ratio of vehicles per person.
If the government (+ NZTA)could change its mono-modal emphasis away from cars the best chance for success would be in Auckland simply because it has New Zealand's highest population. If successful as current trends suggest it will be, we will reduce our imported fuel bill and probably our motor vehicle import bill. We then run the transit train system with NZ generated electricity of which we have a surplus and we need a 10 minute frequency which will be easily obtainable but only when we have the City Rail Link.
Not me,but many young people,singles and young couples now want to live the urban life in apartments - not the terrible postwar English. They want ones like those in Vancouver where there is a better quality of design. Vancouver on its much smaller peninsula than Auckland's isthmus certainly has great apartment and the significant differences would have to be the subject of another discussion. Anyway, the point to be made is that Vancouver has embraced an excellent metro system and a high rise formula that has made it a vibrant,sort-after and lively place to live in.
It is important to record that wherever we live motorways do not do much for quality of place. That is why I am sorry to see Mackay's to Peka Peka motorway. This is cutting through a great swath of Waikanae - suffice to say there were other and cheaper options and a declining traffic count. And the Basin Reserve Flyover will do nothing aesthetically for that part of Wellington just like Auckland's elevated roadway did nothing to enhance Victoria Park.
Brian, I did not dismiss satellite towns on the basis of one book. I thought I had ranted on for too long and it was getting late. The problem with satellite towns is that they too want motorway access to the central city at great cost and thereby reinforcing car dependency. In Auckland's case it gets harder and harder to enter the motorway if you are in one of the closer-in suburbs because each motorway extension brings more cars from afar which have right of way preference over cars attempting to enter.
" The car is the victim of its own success"
However rest assured I am not trying to take away car use from anyone in the provinces but thinking people here want the CIty Rail Link ASAP!
How is this for an intriguing quotation -" a really advanced city is one where even the rich use public transport."

Brian said...

One last Comment Warren.
To separate people from cars with convenience and independence of travel!! Well this idea should be added to the labors of Hercules.

Along with the Augean Stables perhaps???

Good quotation BUT...
"Just who are the Rich?...and more to the point "Why Should they"?

Warren Sanderson said...

Final comment from me - I live on the North Shore and have two cars but I don't bother to use one if travelling to the city because the Northern Busway with a ten minute service is so good and I don't need to pay for parking when I get there. If travelling beyond the city I do use my car.
So maybe not in the Hawke's Bay but in a larger city with good planning and the right infrastructure it is possible to separate people from their cars - at least some of the time.