Mayor Yule’s ‘Poor but Happy’ slideshow, the one he touted around the region during the campaign, held sad statistics about employment, education, housing, and is still relevant.

The consensus among decision makers today is that the socio-economic challenges facing Hawke’s Bay can be tackled best by working across the region rather than in five separate council silos.

On top of that, many issues are so gnarly they need a cross-agency approach by central government.

Amidst the amalgamation debate, the top brass of all our social agencies, alongside those in the councils, came together in December 2014 to find a way to work together in a model that’s one of the first of its kind in New Zealand, certainly the only one working across a whole region, with this diversity of members.

Out of these needs came an embryonic think tank: the Intersectoral Leadership Group (ILG).

The ILG initiative is now called Lift the Bay/Kia Tapatahi. It’s a brave endeavour and one that will take some years to succeed. Those around the table, optimistic about the potential, are asking for patience.

At the pointy end of the group are Lawrence Yule and Kevin Snee, CEO of the Hawke’s Bay DHB.

“It came out of a conversation that Kevin and I had three years ago; we’d both seen how it works in the UK,” explains Yule. “I said, ‘You draw something up and I’ll see if I can support it.’.”

Kevin Snee explains the initial crux of the idea: “Part of the problem is we tend to fragment and silo things in New Zealand. We’ve been trying to encourage fewer organisations, more linking up. If you are in a small organisation without critical mass to enable you to be more strategic, either you have to amalgamate the organisations or work together, the outcome is the same,” he says.

“If you sit in little silos then you can’t reach full potential. You end up with people protecting their responsibilities and their patch. We’re not competing, we’re all working for the same end.”

Right people around the table

Lift the Bay consists of a leadership stream made up of Mayors, Chairs and MPs, and an executive stream that includes representatives from Business Hawke’s Bay, Corrections, EIT, DHB, MBIE, MoE, MSD, Police, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Puni Kōkiri and all five councils. Their single shared resource is coordinator Kerry Le Geyt, who is one year into a two-year contract, based at Napier City Council, but funded by all those agencies involved.

The newly adopted structure separates leadership from executive after some trial and error with getting the balance right between the two strata. The leadership group now meets three times a year, the executive every month. Kerry Le Geyt sees the executive group as the engine room, “driving things forward then taking ideas and initiatives to the leadership group for approval”.

The change came as a response to some politicking within the leadership group, principally among the MPs, one Labour and one National. With opposing MPs sitting at the same table as regional managers, those managers were struggling to voice their opinion; it was a tight rope and inhibitive to open discourse. Le Geyt says the groups are not a closed shop and, as the work programmes change, there will be opportunity to engage other agencies, while some may fall away. Already, one organisation has opted out, Housing New Zealand, and two MPs, Meka Whaitiri
and Marama Fox, have yet to appear at a meeting.

Craig Foss, MP for Tukituki, acknowledges the importance of leaving agendas at the door: “It’s important that everyone is on board. There are times where you have to be professional and just work together. That in itself is kind of cool,” he says.

He’s proud of the way Lift the Bay has managed to steer a course that puts the common pursuit at the forefront in a way that values personal responsibility. “Respect and trust: I see that there a lot, and an honesty that no one organisation can fix the issue. There’s seldom any discussion of how we got here, just that we are.”

Wayne Jack, CEO of Napier City Council, chairs the Executive group. He sees the importance of taking a practical approach to finding region-wide programmes that can make a big difference to the community, now that the structure of leadership and decision making is in place.

“What we’re trying to achieve is a strategy for Hawke’s Bay … The benefit of the group is all these agencies together have ownership and a commitment to resourcing,” he says.

Within the groups there are a mix of players. DHB is in a unique situation. With a lump funding system in place and a locally-elected board, there is more freedom to provide resources when appropriate opportunities and programmes come along.

Kevin Snee: “The DHB is in an interesting position. We’re a hybrid: a national structure but highly decentralised. As long as we’re able to demonstrate we deliver then we can do other things that are innovative and have flexibility.”

Other regional agencies, which are run centrally from Wellington, can be hamstrung when it comes to doing much more than nodding in agreement.

Councils are a different case again. They can identify need and advocate for their communities, but do not have a direct social wellbeing mandate.

Craig Foss identifies the disconnect between the perception a local community may have of its need and the centralisation of funding and resources. “[Lift the Bay] is a great model to try and meet the challenges.

The issues come where central government and local government meet – unless they’re in sync you won’t get the best outcome,” he says. “Everyone has the best intent but our goals might be different. This is an attempt to open those channels up, engage as much as we can with local objectives.”

Mandates from central government have a major effect on local communities and on the capabilities and responsibilities of the local authorities that serve them. This is something Lift aims to mitigate. Even comparatively small issues can become political ping pong, as seen over the drivers licence issue late last year.

Lawrence Yule believes it’s important but tricky to keep politics out of the work Lift is involved in.

“The group is not around people grandstanding, it’s based on respect and trust, we all want to make a difference for the people. There’s been times I’d rather have no central government politicians. If they can’t find a constructive solution that’s helping, then I wonder why they’re there. It can be about Labour versus National and I’ve raised it with the MPs directly.”

Kevin Snee has seen the issues that arise when elected representatives sit side by side, but he’s hopeful that this group can rise above the politics.

Snee also believes the DHB is in a special position to lead the way, as one of the few organisations that cover all of Hawke’s Bay. “We are in a good position and we’re able to engage, we have a responsibility. We just want to see the best for the people of Hawke’s Bay.”

In 2015 Yule advocated bringing the full funding package of $800 million from central government into the region as a lump sum rather than in its current allocation across various agencies. He says now that was blue sky thinking, but even a slightly less ambitious goal would enable change.

“If we were brave enough we would push for it, but perhaps it’s too lofty a goal. But even 5 or 10% could be spent better. This is halfway, this is a good step. We need to be able to say this is our plan for Hawke’s Bay; this is what we want, despite any changes in the government.”

Kevin Snee believes the responsibility for delivering solutions needs to start locally, even if the real change can only be facilitated at a central government level.

“If we’re working together and we can demonstrate success then when we go to government and say we want you to invest in us they’re more likely to do so, we’re more likely to attract inward investment. What we need to do is identify local resources. There’s no point going to central government and saying ‘Give us money’. We need to put local resources in ourselves.”

Potential talk fest

With two groups meeting regularly, plans being formulated and a bevy of the region’s leaders throwing their weight behind Lift the Bay, there is a risk the initiative could become a talk fest with no deliverables to be seen.

One of the issues is workload. Currently, all Lift the Bay work carried out by council officers and agency staff is done on top of their existing workload and ‘business as usual’. The future plan is to have four support groups of staff who have, as part of their role, responsibilities to Lift. Two are already established, although very new: Planning and Communications. Two others – Finance/Funding and Information/ Intelligence – are in the early stages and will be launched soon.

The plan is staff in these support groups will form a virtual office. For that idea to work, tasks and responsibilities need to align to the strategic plans within organisations, and to staff ’s KPIs and position descriptions. Lift is still working through what that model will look like and how it will be resourced.

An early idea is that each organisation will contribute a certain percentage of their overall annual budget. Kevin Snee believes even as little as 0.1% could make a major impact on
what Lift can do. “For the DHB that’s half a million on governance and framework.”

He has floated the idea, but wonders if perhaps it’s too soon for that and something that may be seen in the future, when pre-budget planning allows for such a significant change.

Not for public consumption

One of the first pieces of business was Lift’s vision, which the planning support group helped formulate:

“Hawke’s Bay is a vibrant, cohesive and diverse community where every household and whānau is actively engaged in, contributing to and benefitting from a thriving Hawke’s Bay.”

A Terms of Reference for the group is in the pipeline, but not yet ready for public consumption. The two initial work streams of Lift are Economic Development and Social Inclusion. These two threads are interlinked and sum up the big need in Hawke’s Bay, as Le Geyt summarises: “A strong economy is not sustainable or even possible without a strong community to support it.”

Opening up meetings and the programme of Lift to the public would support that objective to build a strong community, and bring some accountability too. At the moment, accountability is pinned on respect and trust, and perhaps a little wishful thinking.

Craig Foss: “[Lift] has no formal standing. It exists out of the goodwill of the individuals, and that’s pretty cool.”

Lawrence Yule, who chairs the leadership group, is a big advocate for making as much Council business as possible open to the public. “I would’ve preferred some of it to
be public, but government officials have to go back to their minister so there’s a lot that can’t be public at the moment.”

Wayne Jack sees public accountability as part of the future plan for the group, but implementing that now would be premature. “Eventually there may be public meetings, but at the moment there’s still planning and discussion of structure taking place.

Joining the dots

In the past, attempts to establish similar groups have dissipated mainly due to the decision-makers not being at the table.

Craig Foss: “It’s powerful when these bodies can speak as one to central government. [To say] ‘We’ve identified these core issues and it’s not a local fix, or a central one, it’s both together with the agencies’.”

“A lot of social inclusion issues are big problems, it’s going to take work to address, it needs a true multi-agency approach working in a common direction,” says Wayne Jack. “It’s not very often that you get key people from all the different agencies at the same table. This is novel, it’s a completely different model, you’ve got these groups who are now talking to each other.”

Lawrence Yule agrees, “The view in the ILG is that if we all agree then we can persuade central government ministries to make change. Those conversations hardly even exist at a strategic level, although they may be there at a management level.”

“Trust will build; amalgamation was for some divisive but that’s behind us. We need to deliver something of value and then people will see the benefit of this group and its work. If the debate drives us forward then it wasn’t all lost.”

Kevin Snee, who a supporter of amalgamation from the sidelines, says, “The amalgamation debate wasn’t great for building collaborative processes, but we need to put that behind us and collaborate now so everyone wins.”

Low hanging fruit

Although there is still fluidity in the structure and resourcing of the group, work programmes are being firmed up. Driver licences was the first project off the block. Lift wrote to ministers to advocate for change to the licence system and has recently cofunded a contestable community fund to help people get their full licence.

Currently, the process is seen as costly and time consuming – a deterrent to applicants. Lift recognises the issue’s impact on social inclusion and economic development. It’s one of those issues that seems straightforward as long as all the ‘right people’ can get together to nut out a solution – a perfect quick-win for Lift.

Other areas of focus for the group are housing, labour resources in the pipfruit industry and building a broad understanding of infrastructure and construction growth over the next ten years. Lift hopes to facilitate some cohesive thinking around these pinch points, so workforce availability and training all marry up.

Kevin Snee looks at many of Hawke’s Bay’s issues from multiple viewpoints – as head of health care in the Bay but also the largest employer by a considerable margin, as well as one of the biggest ‘customers’ in terms of the region’s GDP.

“Look at capital investment that’s happening in the next five to ten years. We need to look at building a new hospital, that’s $300 million. Look at what others are spending, it’ll probably be a billion dollars on capital investment in the next ten years.

“If we just go and spend that money without looking at what others are doing, the industry can’t cope, and the money people are investing locally won’t stay local. So we need to agree locally on a staggered approach and we need to look at local education providers so the trade and the skills are there.”

Stock take a tool

All the main players at the Lift table agree the July release of the Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS) will be a vital tool for the group. Held under tight wraps, it promises a bundle of analysis and plans to take Hawke’s Bay forward. Ours is one of five regions to be selected for the work by central government due to this region’s particular and significant need: a combination of rising house prices, a high level of seasonal employment and the ‘greying and browning’ of our population.

Lawrence Yule has inputted into REDS and looks forward to using it as a tool. “Let’s look at REDS and say, ‘Where are the areas where we can have influence?’ ”

He’s optimistic that with the right tools and the right structure and infrastructure Lift the Bay could make some real, measurable change. “This group is not afraid and will challenge the status quo; this is a brave group.”

It is hoped the release of REDS will help focus the group and its resources. Yule identifies what he calls ‘macro imbedded issues’, such as supply of labour, ageing population, a greater percentage of those entering the work force being Māori and Pacific. “So our Māori and Pacific kids need to be employable and engaged, need to have drive and a good quality of life.”

He acknowledges the issues facing Hawke’s Bay are complex, but is positive about this group’s essential role in finding some fixes: “There’s two options: do nothing because it’s too hard, or do some things to make some difference.”

A pain point for the group could be accountability. With changes in staffing and a local election in a few months, who’s to say the good work done by the current Lift groups won’t be painted over by future members.

Lawrence Yule is clear: “Accountability rests on the integrity of the individuals involved. What’ll make this enduring is the reality that there’s a path to be followed, that transcends people changing roles. Three years is a short time and it’s hard to get strategy in place.

Snee believes, at the most basic level, everyone is on the same page: “We’re all trying to do the best for the local population.”

He sees contributing financially to the resourcing of the groups will ensure their sustainability. “The local agencies are working together, but you have to put your money where your mouth is, you can’t just sit and talk. We need to agree on direction and current priorities,” he says.

“I think we’ve seen, over the last 5-6 months, an acceleration and I’m optimistic, whilst we have an election coming, we could get to a good place by the end of 2016. We’ll have REDS adopted and underway and our social inclusion plan ready to go, the drivers licence project on the go, and another 6-7 months of working together. We have to be patient with a process like this. If you try to go too far too fast then it might fall over.”

Yule is pragmatic: “I’d like it to move faster. The challenge is the allocation of people’s time in doing this. Don’t underestimate the scale of the task.”

“I’d say that currently we are about 30% as effective as where I want us to be. But it’s embryonic. Am I confi dent we can get to 70-80%? Yes. But it’ll take time and a little bit of courage.”

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