On 5 February lobby group A Better Hawke’s Bay (ABHB) formally submitted its reorganisation application to the Local Government Commission (LGC). That application and other supporting information is available on the ABHB website: www.abetterhb.co.nz
The writer is a founding member of A Better Hawke’s Bay and a strong advocate for consolidation of the region’s five councils into one.
After months of skirmishing around undefined possibilities, a concrete reorganisation proposal is finally on the table. And a serious debate on the specifics of reorganisation can begin.
Already the Commission has visited the region, meeting with councils as well as with applicant ABHB, describing the review and consultation process that will unfold.
Here’s what to expect.
The review process
The LGC is expected to signal officially that it has received an application that is qualified, in terms of demonstrated support, in mid-March. At that point, it will notice the ABHB proposal and invite comments on it from any point of view, as well as any alternative reorganisation proposals.
The Commission will conduct its own analysis of the situation, consider comments, and eventually put forward a reorganisation plan that it considers appropriate for the region. It now appears that the proposed Hawke’s Bay reorganisation is the number one potential scheme on the LGC’s docket.
Once a final LGC plan is formally notified, under present law it would go into effect without further approval. However, a petition calling for a poll (i.e., referendum) on the plan can be initiated. If, within 60 working days, 10% of electors in any district affected by the plan sign the petition, then a poll must be conducted.
If that happens, the plan goes into effect unless rejected by a majority of all those voting across the entire region.
Thus, a relatively small number of voters can trigger a poll, but only a majority across Hawke’s Bay can block the reorganisation.
Much has been asserted about the proponents of reorganisation being anti-democratic. And indeed a lobby group, Dedicated and Democratic HB (DAD) has been formed to ensure that a poll occurs.
However, in fact, A Better Hawke’s Bay has publicly committed itself to support a poll, and to help secure the necessary petition signers. With both reorganisation supporters and opponents (or skeptics) equally committed to a poll, it is a certainty that one will occur.
Every voter in Hawke’s Bay will have his or her say. One concern put to rest. Further arguments at this stage over the ‘democratic process’ are but distractions from the core issues. The rules have been set. A vote will occur.
How long will all this take? Here’s a likely scenario.
Signals from the Local Government Commission suggest that a reorganisation plan might emerge in six months or so (August/September). If that’s the case, local body elections set for October would take place as scheduled. Thereafter, the expected region-wide poll on the plan would occur, perhaps before year’s end. If the scheme failed, those elected to the current bodies would simply continue with business as usual.
If the scheme were approved by voters, another election would occur before mid-2014 to choose the new council (or fill whatever structure the LGC put forward).
More on the politics of all this later in the article.
So, it’s time to debate the merits of reorganisation. What is proposed?
The Hawke’s Bay Council
At this starting point, the plan on the table is that advanced by A Better Hawke’s Bay (see adjoining chart).
ABHB proposes one Hawke’s Bay Council for the entire region – the area presently served by our Regional Council – holding all authorities and responsibilities of the five councils now operating in Hawke’s Bay.
As summarised in ABHB’s application to the Commission, the proposed Hawke’s Bay Council (HBC) would consist of 16 councillors, elected by wards, largely congruent with existing HBRC electoral boundaries, and one mayor elected Bay‐wide.
Napier and Hastings would be equally represented on the Council, and Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay would have two seats each. The proposal seeks to reflect both the urban population realities of Hawke’s Bay and the significance of the rate-paying and overall economic contribution of our rural sector.
ABHB also proposes the creation of five Community Boards that within their scope of authority (focused on local community issues) would negotiate community plans and budgets with the Hawke’s Bay Council and make decisions on local priorities and initiatives. Each Board would have five elected members, with one selected as chair.
Because there are a number of holding companies and ‘council-controlled organizations’ floating around the region (e.g., managing the port, developing property, operating attractions and facilities), ABHB also proposes that these be consolidated. This creates nothing new; instead, simply provides a rational structure for a number of entities that already exist – a structure that can invite and use commercial expertise, and be more visible and transparent to ratepayers.
Finally, the ABHB proposal speaks to Mãori representation, acknowledging the increasing numbers and economic importance of that segment of the region’s population. At this point, ABHB has been seeking input from Mãori leadership, as will the Commission, and has simply recommended building upon the advisory mechanisms that presently exist, most especially the new Regional Planning Committee that sits with the Regional Council.
As Mãori become more familiar with the reorganisation plan and process, other representation proposals might surface. However, the LGC does not have the authority to make structural changes in this area. Those must be considered under the Electoral Act.
This article merely seeks to bring readers ‘up to speed’ on where reorganisation stands in Hawke’s Bay and what is being proposed. Substantial debate over the merits will follow in subsequent editions, and surely elsewhere. That said, the contours of the debate are fairly apparent.
Those who advocate for one council expect that such reorganisation will yield:
- Less duplication and significant
- Efficiencies in time and resources for all those – businesses, community groups, individuals – who must now deal with multiple councils;
- More efficient, consistent and effective day-to-day policy-making and implementation;
- Simplified and more accessible and transparent planning processes;
- Strategic unity around key regional spending priorities and investments, including planning of major facilities and infrastructure;
- Unified and more coherent attention to key social and economic challenges facing the Bay, like enhancing job skills and opportunity;
- One focused voice to the ‘outside’ world – be that to central government, overseas markets, or prospective visitors and immigrants.
- With community identities protected and control over strictly local matters embedded in elected community boards.
Opponents of full consolidation into one council argue that:
- Significant cost savings will not be achieved;
- Many other efficiencies and reductions of duplication could be achieved simply by more concerted cooperation amongst councils;
- One or another community will lose its identity and ‘rightful’ decision-making autonomy;
- A larger unitary authority will be more ‘distant’ from the people and less responsive;
- Ratepayers in one area will be saddled with past debts of other areas;
- Regional council duties are unique and must be held apart from the functions and responsibilities of our four ‘territorial’ councils;
- Local governance structure is irrelevant to addressing the Bay’s social and economic challenges.
And yet another perspective, especially from those ambivalent about reorganisation, is that ‘moving the deck chairs’ is far less important than who steers the ship. For these skeptics, it’s difficult to separate the enduring structural issues from the immediate political personalities involved.
For all sides, the issues are passionately felt, and each side will seek to substantiate its claims and make its case.
What are the politics?
In two words … messy and complicated.
Let’s assume the Local Government Commission indeed puts forth a single council structure resembling the ABHB proposal. And let’s assume local body elections occur as usual in October (actually, mail ballots will return between 22 September and 12 October). Of course, readers can spin their own scenarios.
In the BayBuzz scenario, interested parties will try to influence the LGC deliberations and debate will rage – and hopefully public education – over the next six months or so.
Early in this interval (perhaps while this edition of BayBuzz is still fresh), another independent consultant report commissioned by the five councils will be released. This one will delve into the cost savings that might be achieved in various local body ‘reform’ scenarios, including full amalgamation. The consultant has earlier estimated $25 million in savings might be realized from full amalgamation, with decreasing amounts for less ‘radical’ changes. Both sides eagerly await what he calculates next.
Consultants aside, all our councils will complete new annual budgets in the April-June window, also serving to focus ratepayers on local government cost. The same will happen in Auckland, where savings realized (or not) from reorganisation there will be further documented, providing ‘evidence’ for one side of our regional debate or the other.
Then, on 26 July the window will open for candidates to declare for existing local body seats. That window closes on 23 August. [Pending legislation might move both dates one week earlier.]
It is probably safe to assume that candidates will be expected to have a position on reorganisation – perhaps at first, merely in general; but once the LGC announces a plan, more specific positions will be required. One might even expect that candidate ‘tickets’ will emerge around the amalgamation issue, although surely other issues will be on the table as well.
In Hastings district, for example, add to the mix the referendum on removing fluoride from the district’s water. And throughout the Bay, the Regional Council’s dam plan could prove contentious.
What’s a poor candidate to do?!
Finally, depending on when the LGC announces its plan, the petition campaign for a poll could overlap the electoral campaigning window.
All in all, get ready for a heap of doorbell ringing and canvasing later this year at every event with more than
a carful of attendees!
So, who’s on top?
It’s early in a game that most likely won’t play out entirely until early 2014.
The most obvious opposition to amalgamation centers in Napier, under the leadership of Napier councillor Bill Dalton and re-aspiring Labour MP Stuart Nash. Dalton has spearheaded creation of Dedicated and Democratic HB (DAD), and champions the anti-amalgamation cause on his blog. Nash writes occasional opinion pieces in the press opposing amalgamation.
Beyond politicians – these two, a few other Napier (and Regional) councillors and staff, and mayor Peter Butler in CHB – it’s very difficult to identify a business or civic leader opposed to reorganisation.
That hasn’t stopped the Napier City Council from using ratepayer dollars to propagandise against reorganisation, devoting the entire December edition of Proudly Napier to a blast against “enforced amalgamation”. Precisely because sitting councils have an obvious conflict of interest, legislation forbids councils from pulling stunts like that once the LGC has proposed a reorganisation plan.
Supporters of reorganisation are more demonstrably broad-based … more visible because 1,000 of them have registered as supporters of A Better Hawke’s Bay, most choosing to be publicly listed on ABHB’s website. Supporters from all sectors and from across the Bay are publicly identified, including leaders of the Mãori community like Ngahiwi Tomoana of Ngãti Kahungunu, Alayna Watene of Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, and Des Ratima of Ngã Marae.
Ngahiwi Tomoana wrote to A Better Hawke’s Bay … “I am writing to confirm the support of Ngãti Kahungunu Iwi for a new council structure for Hawke’s Bay. We would encourage you to promote a single authority across the region and congratulate you for your leadership.”
Adds Alayna Watene, “Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga is the largest non-govern-mental deliverer of services to Mãori in Hawke’s Bay. As such, it needs strong relationships with the region’s civic leaders. It would be much easier to build these connections and understanding if we had to work with just one council.”
Just weeks ago, ABHB released the results of a region-wide random survey professionally conducted by Curia Market Research. One thousand interviews were completed with Hawke’s Bay voters.
The results indicated very high awareness (86%) for the reorganisation issue, specifically for the One Council proposal. Further, 67% agreed that an independent review of local government structure in Hawke’s Bay would be useful.
More importantly, 64% favoured some reorganisation of local government structure in Hawke’s Bay. This included majorities in each jurisdiction – 53% in Napier, 53% in Wairoa, 60% in CHB and 75% in Hastings. Only 25% region-wide support no reorganisation.
These early survey results, heartening to advocates of reorganisation, are still far ahead of any region-wide referendum nine months or more from now on a specific plan.
Nevertheless, they indicate that the “Moneyed Minority”, as councillor Bill Dalton, de facto leader of DAD, derisively refers to supporters of amalgamation, is a rather sizable ‘minority’ after all. In other words, game on!
BayBuzz understands that “Moneyed Minority” tee-shirts will soon be available.
For more reorganisation information:
A Better Hawke’s Bay
Dedicated and Democratic HB
Local Government Commission