Corporate takeover of Auckland confirmed by government

Monday 24 May 2010, 5:01PM
By North Shore City Council


The government’s confirmation today of the corporate takeover of Auckland local government is a slap in the face for Aucklanders, North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams said today.

Aucklanders told the government loud and clear that above all else they wanted to see two things come out of the select committee process:

  • that the new local boards needed to have their powers, functions and responsibilities guaranteed in law, and
  • that core local government functions needed to stay in the hands of elected city councillors

“Instead, the government has confirmed that the vast bulk of council activity - over 70% of the functions - and the hundreds of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money that goes with it, will be handed over to unelected company boards (CCO’s), and that the local boards cannot be trusted with the power and resources necessary to meet local community needs.” Says Mayor Williams.

“The government report rejects the call for local board powers to be enshrined in law with the breathtakingly arrogant claim that “submitters may have been unaware of the complexity of defining the precise decision making responsibility of local boards”, essentially saying that Aucklanders are too dumb to understand how difficult it would be.”

“Showing such disregard towards the well considered and heart-felt views of Aucklanders simply confirms that most of this consultation process has been a simple ‘window dressing’ exercise, when the government really had no intention of maintaining a high level of local government democracy in Auckland.”

“In a major backdown for Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, a significant concession - as a result of Auckland wide pressure - is the provision in the bill that will see appointments of two people onto each of these CCO’s by the Auckland Council. The Council will also determine the Chair and the Deputy Chair. No doubt the government saw this trade-off on the CCO’s as being a prudent strategic move given that there is a general election a bit over a year away.”

“It is however unfortunate that this bill precludes local board members from being appointed onto the company boards, clearing the way for the complete takeover of these companies by an unelected, and most likely unelectable, hand-picked elite.”

“The great shame of the government’s bulldozer approach to democracy in Auckland is that it leaves the new Auckland Council and the new local boards with a legacy of ratepayer mistrust and anger from day one, that will take years to sort out,” Mayor Williams said.

Mayor Williams acknowledged that the extra time allowed for local boards to complete their plans and the government’s attempts to better align company activity with the new long term council community plan and council strategic policy, are steps in the right direction, but would not have been necessary had the government listened to Aucklanders in the first place instead of rushing to legislate for the super city under urgency and without public input.

“Many now find it somewhat ironic that the government is trumpeting that it has listened to Auckland, when the token changes they announced today are in response to the mess they created themselves in the first place,” Mayor Williams said.

“At the end of the day, the sooner the government in Wellington and these meddling Ministers are out of the mix the better, so that the elected representatives of the people of Auckland can ‘road test’ the super city model and start the long and uncertain process of trying to restore genuine local democracy, contain the inevitable cost blow-outs, and deliver growth and prosperity to Auckland.”

“This has been a hugely wasteful exercise for New Zealand at a time when our economy cannot afford it. Eliminating some of New Zealand’s best performing councils in order to create a monster beast of an Auckland mini-state, 21 unwieldy boards, seven arms-length CCO’s and a giant bureaucracy of over 6,000 staff will be proven to have been a disastrous experiment, when all they needed to do was restructuring at regional level.”

“I predict that the government will hardly recognise their ‘Frankenstein’ super city in a few years’ time, once elected local representatives have had the opportunity to sort out this central government imposed mess, including absorbing many of the core functions back into the democratically elected council structure. The only thing Auckland ratepayers will have to show for the government’s folly will be a massive multi-million dollar transition debt to pay off, with interest, and higher rates and water bills,” Mayor Williams said.

“That’s been the experience in Toronto. That's what will prove to be the case in Auckland."