As the region hears about unemployment, the state of the economy, local government reform and the Ruataniwha Dam project, the Government is quietly spending $2.2 million a day ($800 million per annum) supporting our health, education, police, roading, social welfare, housing and a multitude of other things. While this is over five times greater than the rates collected in the region, it is still your money.
It came as no surprise to me when I read the recent Winder Prosperity Study for Hawke’s Bay, that a key opportunity for us was to better align the spending of this government money. More to the point, I personally believe we would get far better and more consistent results if the Government actually gave that money to a regional structure in bulk and decision-makers here in the Bay allocated it in a planned, integrated and efficient way.
That may sound radical, but simply put, the current top-down structure and bureaucracy is having no real impact on our negative demographic statistics. Despite the best-intentioned government interventions, on just about every demographic measure this region is near the bottom of the heap. I don’t say that to be alarmist; it simply is what it is.
Key building blocks to an individual’s success can usually be traced back to the quality of family life, education and employment. These are exactly the same areas that consume the majority of the government resources, so why is it that with $800 million coming into the region we are slipping further behind and the system is failing families and people?
It is not the fault of hard-working teachers, doctors, nurses, policemen and social workers. It is the fault of the system. It is silo-driven and controlled by people who have masters based in Wellington. I am not even sure we need more money to fix this.
I have seen countless examples where the system has failed families and people in need and it becomes a crisis situation before a group meeting is held with all the agencies. Often over 10 organisations attend such meetings, yet not one has overall responsibility for finding a solution. There are times when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and in many cases, issues around privacy prevent information being shared.
Frequently there is no long-term policy approach. Three-year contestable contracts do little to address long-term embedded issues when contract churn abounds. There is a myriad of hard-working ‘not for profit’ groups working away in our community trying to make a difference, but funding is scarce and not secure.
A day in the life of Henare and Pam O’Keefe shows just how powerful a small amount of money can be in supporting passionate advocates for families in need. I deeply admire and respect the work of Henare and Pam, ably supported by Rex Graham and Julie Green and the U-Turn Trust. In this regime they just get on and do things from the bottom up. No issue is too challenging and, not surprisingly, significant private money has flowed in to support their work that makes a difference. Henare and Pam stand by their convictions and the people they support. Many different approaches have been used, including the popular Tunu Tunu barbeque which rolls into streets to give free sausages and bread (all which is donated) and the development of the Flaxmere boxing academy. This wasn’t government led, it simply came out of a passion to make a difference.
My views on local government reform are well known, but perhaps not so well understood is my reason for wanting a change. I am deeply concerned about the future opportunities for our young people. Unless we line up all of our resources (central and local government) in a unified and planned way, we are not going to maximise those opportunities. Resources are limited but the demand is great.
The bottom-up approach needs to be family centric and involve everything including housing, education, nutrition, sport and employment. It needs to be in a form that makes people self-reliant and proud. There is no way we are going to keep our young people in Hawke’s Bay if the jobs on offer only pay $14 per hour. Nor is there any future in thinking young Mãori and Pasifika people are simply embedded in poor demographic statistics. The population is ageing and these same people will be critical in the future of Hawke’s Bay. Young people actually want a future here.
Last week, I wrote a letter of support to the Budget Advice Service as they seek funding from external sources. The demand on their services has never been higher and hundreds of hours are put in by volunteers. The fundamental question here is who should fund them? Currently the Ministry of Social Development, Hastings District Council and trusts fund this service. Critical to the success of any family is the ability to manage their money, yet these people who help families manage their money are themselves now faced with trying to find money to support the largely voluntary work.
Another example of a lack of clarity is around work force development. At the same time as Hastings District Council works under a government contract with employers to deliver a workforce project called Youth Futures, EIT loses significant resources and student placements. Both are controlled by different agencies of Government.
In my view the system is broken and we need to consider something different. The current system is sub-optimal at best and in many cases is failing our people. While I would prefer a system where the Government bulk-funded the $800 million against an agreed plan and governance regime, I doubt that Central Government will allow this loss of control.
But why not at least trial a new model – with more local control – in one or two areas that are critical to lifting the well-being of people in Hawke’s Bay. The two areas I would nominate for our region are job training and development, and early child welfare.
Another option would be to appoint a regional CEO in each region to manage the total government spend, in a transparent and structured dialogue with local elected officials … those who ‘feel the heat’ when things go wrong. I am confident it would create efficiencies and deliver better services to the people that need it. In supervising such a large budget he or she would be a key player in the success of each region, and accountability would be easier to place.
Some may consider this radical thinking, but I believe, to meet the needs of Hawke’s Bay, the time has come to be radical.