Mayor Lawrence Yule’s amalgamation proposal, while initially taking most of us by surprise, is timely given the changes occurring around us in both the political and regional community environment.
I agree with Lawrence’s timing proposals. There is so much at stake that there needs to be time for real community debate and thorough consideration of costs, benefits and even different reorganisation options.
Take for example the prospect for cost savings. With a single region wide unitary council we will create an organisation more than three times the size of Hastings District Council. Sure there will be only one (more highly paid) CEO but Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay will still need District Managers and as is universal with bigger organisations, another layer of senior support staff is likely to be laid in. As well, major changes like this will disrupt in the first instance and take probably 2-3 years to fully bed in. I am not saying that there won’t be cost savings or that costs will necessarily increase, but there must be very thorough and cautious investigations before we jump in the deep end.
Given that unlike Auckland, there is nothing seriously broken that must be fixed in Hawke’s Bay, we have to again be very careful that change is not at the cost of effective representative democracy and we must preserve the right of our four separate and distinctive communities to maintain essential self determination. That requires an effective second tier of local councils with appropriate delegations and some real powers to make a difference for their own communities. The present proposal protects that to a reasonable extent.
It is also important to be aware that the Regional Unitary Hawke’s Bay Council, is not the only reform option. It is possible for one, two, three or four of the present territorial councils to merge with the Regional Council to form a new Unitary Council. If one or two present councils wanted to retain the status quo then the Unitary Council would provide Regional Council services to them.
All of these options and the opportunities and threats, inherent in such major change, mean that we need to take our time to get it right. Accordingly, I agree with Mayor Yule’s proposal that the matter should be considered, consulted upon and deliberated upon by referendum over 2011/12.
In the meantime, it is also essential that we don’t get distracted from our important governance tasks. The Regional Council has vital work to do on its water strategy including its water storage scheme and water quality issues. All Councils could and should be doing work on service and planning harmonisation and we have to make sure that the Government does not make serious mistakes in its reviews of Local Government generally and Resource Management Act in particular.
I agree with my Mayoral colleagues that any change should be the wish of electors and not be imposed from outside.