Our region’s five councils are apparently closing in on terms of reference for Hawke’s Bay’s ‘performance’ study, with a goal of securing elected leaders’ agreement before Christmas.
Let’s assume that agreement is achieved. Then what?
Funding must be approved and an independent, prestigious study leader must be recruited. Given the inefficiency built into having five councils in the first place, this preparatory work most likely will not be completed until late January. So maybe the study will get underway in February.
Being optimistic, we might move early next year from debating the very existence of the study to discussing and debating the issues it will address.
Proponents of change in governance arrangements will need to establish the actual connections between the substantive issues most people want to address — e.g., an under-performing regional economy, better regional planning and advocacy, advancing the disadvantaged, saving time and money in the public sector — and the ways in which progress on those issues is impeded by present governance arrangements.
Unless and until those connections are made and understood, it’s premature to get fixated upon or hysterical about any given reorganisation scheme. Defining the problem must precede designing a solution.
In the recent election, Stuart Nash sought to capitalise on many Napier voters’ current fear of ‘amalgamation’ (whatever that might actually mean to people at this point) by tagging Chris Tremain as an advocate of ‘amalgamation’.
Since his victory, Tremain has sought to clarify his position, writing in HB Today:
“What I have been advocating for is one clear strategic plan for our region with the backing of all our councils (including the regional council). I want to help lead an inspired province which drives business growth and jobs while protecting our environment. We have too many shared assets both man-made (the port, roads, the airport etc) and natural (the Tuki Tuki and the Tutaekuri etc) to be working in different silos for different goals.
Does this mean council amalgamation. It might, it might not! I’m certainly not fixated with total amalgamation as the only alternative. It’s more likely to mean a unique solution for the Bay which still ensures we have strong representation for each of our cities, rural towns and hinterland. One option may be for our Mayors and Deputy’s to be automatically appointed to the Regional Council ensuring alignment of thinking behind the implementation of a regional plan.”
He supports the study process and says that any proposed changes recommended by it “would need to be strongly debated and would always be put to a referendum.”
His “one option” as stated briefly above should be taken as that … one option. Others will no doubt be advanced as various individuals and interests step forward during the study process to articulate their views of the problems or blockages and how current local governance relates to those.
I can’t wait for that stage of the discussion to begin. Of course, I have this quaint notion that the examination of the Bay’s performance belongs to the people, and not to the councils or their study leader. And that therefore the study leader will invite broad public participation in identifying problems and suggesting solutions. Assuming that’s the case, it will be incumbent upon all those individuals and interests who whinge constantly in private about the foibles and shortcomings of local government to front up and help inform and influence the study.
The model here is the open and participatory HPUDS policy development process, not the private council ‘workshop’.
I’d start the debate by noting that the Regional Council resolution that’s become the starting point for councils’ general agreement was passed back on 21 September (and Hastings Council had endorsed a study prior to that); the study will commence at best in February … five months later.
To some of our elected leaders, that’s light speed. To many of the public, it’s a glacial pace that simply underscores the nature of the problem that must be addressed.