Friday, September 7, 2012

There is a better way than a super-city for Wellington...

Wellington city
Councillor DAVID BASSETT: We need to examine innovative ways to improve the overall performance of local government.
OPINION: Over the past year we have been bombarded with a one-sided commentary that suggests all the answers to the Wellington region's governance issues lie in the formation of a "super city". That is not the case. Rather than rush into New Zealand's traditional approach to local government reform, amalgamating councils in the blind belief that it must be more efficient, it is time we started examining more innovative ways as to how we can improve the overall performance of local government.
Careful analysis should include:
What are the efficiency gains and improved service delivery expectations we seek and at what cost?
How do we ensure we do not sacrifice the benefits of strong citizen participation, which is a feature of the current system, and how do we avoid governance being dominated by central government party politics, which would inevitably result under a super city model?
Recognising research that indicates forced amalgamations are expensive and will not produce optimum efficiencies.
If there is any doubt as to the costs and benefits associated from forced amalgamation it is worth noting the comments of the Auckland City Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, who said 'the super city is expensive, it's unwieldy, and it's unfriendly to communities'.
Little discussion in the reform debate has been given to a "shared services" option which has worked successfully for Hutt City and Upper Hutt City since the 1989 local government reforms. In these two Hutt Valley authorities the joint services venture, managed by way of a statutory committee, has involved major infrastructure facilities such as water, waste water, landfill operations, animal control, cemeteries, libraries and emergency management as well as "back office" services. Significant savings have resulted from this "shared service" model including both cities deriving the lowest rates increases and debt levels of any city in New Zealand over the past decade. Interestingly, Hutt City in 2011 was awarded the Gold Medal for Business Excellence, the only local authority in New Zealand to have received the award.
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