Penny Hulse is right about Super City

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By Greg Presland

I have known Auckland’s Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse for a while now.  We were foundation members of Team West, a progressive coalition that successfully contested the Waitakere City local body elections in 2001 and we were both elected to the Council.  While we were on Council we did not always see eye to eye.  We clashed about the speed of implementation of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act 2008.  I thought that it was important for meaningful protection to be implemented as soon as possible, Penny thought that the process should be much more gradual.

On most other issues we did agree, especially about the importance of Eco City and the importance of community.

Penny has recently been criticised for comments about super city that were reported in the Herald.  She was attending a meeting of West Auckland community activists called to discuss the centralisation of much of the functions of the Waitakere Family Court into downtown Auckland.  She made what I thought was the very appropriate comment that “[t]he Super City is expensive, it’s unwieldy, it’s unfriendly to communities.  To take that model and impose it on something as sensitive as the Family Court is just senseless.”

She also made the following comment:

“The way the Super City is currently set up is not working for all our communities.”

There are a number of reasons for this.  Staff numbers are down.  It was planned that numbers would total 8,500 but there are 700 vacancies.  Work is not being performed as well as it should.  Also some of the best and brightest have either moved overseas or into the private sector, burned off by their treatment during the reform process.

Redundancy payments to axed staff and other costs of creating the Super City were put in March at $200 million.  These costs do not include time spent trying to find out who has responsibility for particular aspects of Council activity.  The reforms were meant to be about the saving of money but to date all that has been achieved is a significant extra spend.

Penny also said more resources should be devolved to the 21 local boards as has occurred in other “Super Cities” such as Brisbane.  This is important.  My strong impression is that currently the Council itself is struggling with its workload while the Local Boards could be doing more.

I agree whole heartedly with Penny’s comments.  Super City is struggling.  Too much institutional knowledge has been lost and there is too much uncertainty amongst new staff about who is responsible for what.  And there is a clear danger that supposed savings will not be achieved.

As an example of organisational problems I have been very keen to find out which programmes are going to be cut to achieve Len Brown’s goal of $62m in savings.  Local groups are concerned that long standing funding arrangements may be cut in the need to save money.  So far no one has been able to provide me with this information even though Annual plan hearings have finished.

It is clear that the super city formation process has been rushed and should have been taken at a more careful pace.  The amalgamation should have been incremental.  Such services as Libraries and publications could have been amalgamated immediately but the rest, particularly computer systems, should have been merged over a three year period.

The role for all elected representatives should and will be to make the current system work.  I am sure that councillors and local board members will be able to make the structure function and prove over time.  But this should not hide the fact that Rodney Hide’s and the Government’s reorganisation  of super city has been poorly handled.

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