In their draft ten-year plans (LTCCPs), the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils each display the same chart touting the various initiatives on which they, plus the Wairoa and CHB Councils, have collaborated or are currently working on together.
Nevertheless, more cynical council-watchers might say that this synchronized communication itself is in fact one of the most impressive examples of collaboration our councils have produced to date!
We’re given promises … big and small. For example, a 3-way study of land use on the Heretaunga Plains, to be followed by a “joint district plan” between Hastings and Napier. The Hastings LTCCP allocates a whopping $25,000 to explored shared service and other cooperative possibilities. The Napier LTCCP mentions two other areas, in addition to joint plans, where councils might work together — efficiencies in compliance processes under the Building Act and efficiencies in engineering activities, including design, asset planning and contracting.
But, as Councillor Wayne Bradshaw observed at a recent HDC meeting, no one has yet produced an actual workplan with timetables, milestones and targeted savings or specific program outcome improvements. It’s all rhetorical fluff, he fears, rolled out with the same vagueness each time a ten-year plan needs to be written.
Why is it too much to ask of our councils that they produce this kind of workplan? As it stands, there’s nothing against which to hold councils accountable.
If one regularly attends meetings of our various local councils, as I do, it’s not at all difficult to see why collaboration and “shared services” is more rhetoric than reality. All the usual obstacles are clearly displayed — the “not invented here” syndrome, the “let’s learn from their mistakes” syndrome, petty personal and institutional rivalries, sheer laziness and bureaucratic inertia, inconsistent signals from Councillors to staff, and lack of internal incentives that reward cooperation amongst staffs on a day-to-day basis.
The fact is, even in public debate Councillors more often denigrate than commend their counterparts’ Councillors, staffs and policies. One can only imagine what views are expressed behind closed doors! Not exactly an attitude that gives one much confidence that the ratepayers’ interests are being put at the forefront.
What ratepayers deserve is:
- A concrete workplan on joint initiatives and shared services with specified timetables and projected outcomes;
- A working group with identified Councillors, staffs and perhaps outside representatives to drive the process and be held accountable; and,
- A regular process for the working group to consult with the public and to publicly report progress.
Some Councillors and staff will insist that more collaboration is occurring on a day-to-day basis than appears on the radar. Sorry, based on the attitudes I see regularly displayed and the lack of specific reported outcomes, I just don’t buy it.
If there’s so much cooperation and coordination going on, then councils should be happy to report the details, including the benefits to ratepayers, and claim full credit.