Last week, the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils (plus some other neighbors) formally adopted their so-called ‘Triennial Agreement.” This Agreement, in which our Councils commit to cooperate and consult with one another, is required by the Local Government Act … otherwise it probably wouldn’t exist at all.

Starting with the very fact that it takes Councils eight pages to make a simple promise to cooperate, the whole concept is a joke.

I watched the Regional and Hastings Councils ‘debate’ and adopt the Agreement, and I surely won’t be challenged on saying that Councillors (and staff) made sport of the matter!

That said, in Hastings, Councillors Bradshaw and Bowers, in a rare display of common concern, each questioned whether the agreement carried any real meaning or significance. A few joking comments were made in response. Asked to identify a benefit of the agreement, CEO Ross McLeod replied (or dead-panned?): “We’ll be complying with the law.” Laughter.

But the most entertainment, as usual, was offered by Councillor Gilbertson at the Regional Council. He called the Agreement ‘bollux’. He railed that it was a ‘farce’ for Councils who routinely ignored each other and neglected obvious areas of collaboration to adopt a cooperation agreement … and proceeded to vote against it as a matter of high principle.

While Councillor Gilbertson perhaps drew the issue most passionately, Councillors Bradshaw and Bowers at least raised the question as to whether it was possible for the Agreement to amount to something … to actually be useful.

Unfortunately, no one seemed to have any ideas for this.

Well, I do.

Take this provision, as an example: “Signatories will … Work together, as far as practical, to develop a common process for identifying community outcomes in order to minimise costs and the consultation burden on the public.”

Here’s a suggestion …

Our Councils have already begun the process of drafting their Annual Plans (budgets) for 2011-12 and will soon put these out separately for public consultation. To be sure, many expenditures for each Council need to be made irrespective of anything other Councils might be doing.

But there are very significant areas of expenditure where the lack of coordinated needs assessment and planning results in wasteful, duplicate spending by Councils, each acting blindly (with respect to what other Councils might be doing), and each requiring a procession of the same submitters and interest groups who must trudge around making their case over and over.

In the spirit of the Triennial Agreement, why can’t the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils organize a common submissions process covering at least some ‘trial’ areas for common consideration. I nominate spending on tourism promotion and related event assistance, funding to the sports community and for sport facilities, funding to support arts and cultural activities, and spending on coastal protection as four ‘trial areas’ to try such collaboration.

If such a process were adopted, spending would be committed far more rationally (which isn’t necessarily to say less would be spent), the total level of funding commitment across the Bay to certain priorities would be far more transparent, and the scarce time and resources of citizen submitters would be optimized. The same joint process should be adopted for the next Long Term Plans, for which public consultation will begin informally later this year.

The same advantages would apply to genuine collaboration as mandated by this provision: “Share resources where feasible on such information as demographics, survey data, scientific studies and the analysis of social, economic, environmental and cultural trends.”

Do we really need a separate ‘State of the Environment’ report from each Council? And how many times will essentially the same cut & paste ‘Economic Status Report’ be prepared for each jurisdiction … is the economy likely to be  booming in Napier but simultaneously going down the toilet in Hastings? Ditto for multiple ‘Social Reports’.

True, there would be a major recession in the region’s consulting sector if such rationalization were ever effected!

Nevertheless, until some meat is added to the Triennial Agreement bones, as Councillor Gilbertson says, it’s a load of bollux.

Tom Belford

P.S. My favorite provision: “Signatories will … Apply a ‘no surprises’ policy whereby early notice will be given over disagreements between local authorities concerning policy or programmes before the matter is put out to the public.” This is probably the only provision that is strictly adhered to … as a matter of self-defense!

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1 Comment

  1. I think I have said it before – we need teams of Councilors who have a measure of common sense. HDC Ratepayers are starting to complain bitterly and loudly about rate rises. Your suggestions are common sense Tom. Our current councils are separately committing money to grand projects without assessing regional needs and ignoring the fact that they become ongoing costs further down the track and maintenance ultimately gets neglected. The basic infrastructures and day to day maintenance and essential services fall well below the mark – these items should be the priorities. Councils also ignore the fact that overall the region has only 150,000 residents – most not actually ratepayers. For example the data bases and sewage systems could and should be co-operative projects. As you suggest, true regional co-operation would cut costs and maybe a few seats.

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