Hard News by Russell Brown


The Auckland Council as leaky building

Rob O'Neill at Computerworld has used the Local Government Official Information Act (which looks like being a crucial tool for discovering what's actually going on in the new Auckland) to retrieve some interesting documents relating to the consolidation of existing councils' IT services.

The nub of the story is that because the Super City process is being pushed through in such haste, only a "veneer" (and that's the word that's actually being used) of unified services will be put in place. This means that the money spent on the process will not achieve the ostensible aim of the whole exercise – cost savings.

My understanding is that the quick-and-dirty approach will have another unpleasant effect, one reaching across much more than IT consolidation: it will delay the real spending until after the Auckland Council is formed.

This might suit the government, which can declare that the delayed spending -- of the order of $200 to $300 million -- is being done at the discretion of the newly-elected council. But it will leave us Auckland ratepayers with huge obligations from day one.

It's been described to me as "the Auckland Council as a leaky building": it looks fine on the outside, but is rotten underneath. The word "veneer" would seem to have been well chosen.

Update: Rob has an editorial comment on his lead story, noting the layers of official obstruction in the way of it and the ATA's decree that it would only speak to Computerworld off the record. Who the hell do these people think they are?

Meanwhile – and, hey, if David Farrar can string together a bunch of editorial blockquotes and call it a blog post, so can I – the front-page banner headline on Friday's Auckland City Harbour News was 'Public have no say'. Its opening sentence was "Everyone in Auckland is about to be done over." And its closing lines are: "Do you trust them? We certainly do not."

The target of the polemic by David Kemeys, editor-in-chief of Fairfax's Suburban Newspapers Ltd, is, if you hadn't guessed, the Auckland Super City transition and, in particular, the seven CCOs that will run almost all the merged city's services.

It's strong stuff for a Fairfax suburban freebie, but Kemeys isn't alone. The Weekend Herald's editorial doesn't hold back:

Every Aucklander has an interest in this decision-making and needs to be a part of it. It is vapid to say the CCOs will be subject to the Official Information Act. That will merely enable people to learn of the decision-making after the event.

Not only the public will be neutered. There is also no guarantee that Super City mayors will be able to deliver the platforms on which they were elected. The Auckland Council will also find its hands tied.

Under the third and final Super City bill, the transport CCO can, for example, prohibit the council from exercising any transport functions unless it delegates them. The directors wielding this power will, in the first instance, be largely appointed by Mr Hide and Mr Joyce. Thereafter, the council will appoint but not directly control them.

In essence, the CCO boards will run more than 75 per cent of services in the Super City at arm's length from its elected representatives. The councillors will be restricted to writing spatial plans and statements of intents with the CCOs. Even the most worthy of these will be a pallid expression of democracy when every level of the decision-making is in the hands of unelected directors.

And the Herald on Sunday was just as stern yesterday:

The Prime Minister has hinted that there will be changes to make the CCOs more accountable but has ruled out anything major. That is not good enough. By their very nature, CCOs are designed to take control away from politicians and the public in the interests of greater speed and efficiency.

Either the council-controlled organisations are organisations controlled by the council or they are not. If they are not, the PM and Hide should say so - and should say why. As matters stand, the CCO model is anathema to the idea of democracy and is not what anyone in the region signed up for. Wellington must think again.

Thinking again appears to have been ruled out by the Prime Minister. I wonder if the heat going on his Auckland MPs might change his mind. Because it appears that something will have to give in this benighted project.

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