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Ak Can Strengthen Communities, Simplify Governance

One Auckland Trust Media Release

Monday April 21st 2008

Auckland Can Strengthen Power Of Communities While Simplifying Regional Governance Says Trust

The One Auckland Trust, which began a campaign to reform Auckland local governance in 2006, says Auckland can have its cake and eat it too, with a new structure which gives local communities more power as well as a strong single Council for the whole region with one council – owned company to manage assets and deliver services.

The thrust of the Trust’s submission to the Royal Commission is that the prevailing view of the Auckland Region as a disparate and unequal collection of cities, districts and suburbs (community groups) needs to be dismantled and reinvented as a single City of scale able to secure a sustainable and prosperous future for New Zealand’s national and international advantage.

However, to ensure a strengthened `local’ governance dimension while at the same time addressing the Commission’s requirement to suggest ways for Auckland to become a world-class city and work better with central government, the Trust advocates the establishment of 26 or so community boards with four members in each acting in the best interests of their communities. These boards would have defined decision-making powers and control spending of community budgets of about $2 million initially.

Councillors elected to a single Auckland Council of some 26 councillors would owe their allegiance to the whole region; some could be elected on a ward basis and some ``at large’’. A Councillor would be appointed to each community board to provide the link between the community board and council.

The Trust believes the Mayor of the Auckland should be elected at large by the voters.

``The Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city should not be elected in some backroom deal days after the people have voted. We need transparency, accountability and leadership, and believe the Mayor should have some executive authority so that he or she is not at risk of merely being a figurehead,’’ says Trust chair Grant Kirby, who is a former Chair of the Local Government Commission.

The Trust also recommends that the assets and investments of the region’s current councils should be placed in the hands of a professionally managed council-owned company charged with developing infrastructure and providing services in line with Council’s wishes.

The Trust believes there are potential major cost savings in combining eight councils with 264 elected politicians and nearly 6000 staff. At present, the operating costs of these councils account for nearly 80% of the $2.5 billion raised each year in rates, fees and charges.

The Trust’s submission says, if just 10% of the combined council’s operating costs can be saved, this would equate to $200 million a year enabling rate cuts and/or financing of infrastructure projects.

Mr Kirby said Auckland was looking to the Royal Commission to provide insight, wisdom and courage in coming up with a recommended structure for Auckland’s governance that met the region’s future needs. Auckland will not be well served by a cautious compromise which endeavours to keep the big players happy but delivers mediocrity of future decision making.

He urged the Commission to start with a blank sheet of paper and an open mind.

``No-one would design or advocate the structure which has evolved into the present situation.

``Now the Commission has the opportunity to recommend a structure that enables Auckland to agree on a single plan and budget, to speak with one voice and to manage its infrastructure and assets efficiently in the interests of the whole region, while devolving more local decision making to empowered community boards representing communities of interest.

``Such a structure will enable Auckland to become a city of international quality, delivering enhanced quality of life to its citizens, and playing its expected role in the national economy’’.


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