On Wednesday, the Regional Council adopted this resolution regarding a study of the Bay’s socioeconomic prospects and local governance:

“Approves the investment of $40,000 for efficiency and effectiveness studies be invested in the following three areas:

2.1. Further scoping of the opportunities for and value of inter-regional Council and natural resource sector government department collaboration.

2.2. In collaboration with the TLAs and potentially Business Hawke’s Bay, further analysis and definition of how the Hawke’s Bay economy might be further diversified and if so, what targets would need to be set.

2.3. Assessment at a detailed level, as to what role Local Government in Hawke’s Bay plays in enabling socioeconomic development and/or impeding it. This work should examine local government structure, planning, consenting and compliance frameworks, their current state and also the pipeline of plan strategies and plan changes underway, the drivers for these and the value proposition. This study will also include an initial assessment as to whether adjustments in Local Government strategies and processes would add further value to the Hawke’s Bay Economy.”

Watching the debate were a number of prominent Hastings and Napier community leaders (all favouring a review of current governance arrangements as those might affect moving the Bay forward) and a gaggle of Napier City Councillors (apparently they couldn’t find any actual community leaders to show support for their denial of the governance issue). By HBRC standards, this was a packed house.

What does this resolution mean?

All sides can claim their interests have been advanced.

The Regional Council, under pressure, has asserted its claim to be the regional leader — or at least convener — of a study process that was likely to occur with or without its participation.

And for their part, the forces determined to get ‘local government structure’ included in a holistic performance review of the region, having now made themselves known (with more to come) in local advertising, have managed to get the Regional Council’s assent (and some funding) for such a study.

Signals are that CHB and Wairoa will join in such a study. Sitting it out alone would make Napier Councillors truly look irrelevant.

Whether this formulation works to move the ball forward will depend on some key details still to be clarified … and agreed to.

Starting with … who participates in the study?

HBRC Chair Fenton Wilson presented the study as one that all councils will be invited to participate in and pay for. “I expect to have his (Mayor Yule’s) cheque on my desk by the end of October,” he quipped. Presumably, in that case, everyone with skin in the game would have a seat at the table in planning the process and setting its terms of reference. Indeed, as it stands, if this formulation meets Hastings Council’s test, HDC would be the largest funder.

However, other Regional Councillors referred to it as “our” study. So, is it a study to be ‘owned’ by all the region’s five councils … or is it not?

Participation reaches farther still. The private sector has indicated willingness to help fund a comprehensive study that included a review of governance. It isn’t clear whether Regional Councillors want such participation. HBRC had no problem accepting private sector funding for the new Tourism Hawke’s Bay … indeed that was the mandatory condition of HBRC keeping its marbles in the tourism game.

And if the scale of a proper study warrants additional funds — supplied in part by private sources — how is that to be managed? At least one Councillor, Alan Dick, thinks of this study as a mere ‘desktop exercise’ not requiring much spending.

So scale and participation require further clarification.

The scale of the effort will be determined by the terms of reference that must be developed to give more sure and precise guidance to the study team than the general language of the resolution adopted. Cynically, I can foresee a lengthy struggle as (potentially) five councils negotiate exactly what the study they are paying for should delve into … and by when. And there’s no referee to officiate over this scrum.

We have a distance to go before those signing on to the ‘Better Hawke’s Bay’ team can be satisfied. They declare:

“We need to look at the economic, social, health and environmental challenges and decide how these issues are best addressed. This may result in a re-evaluation of the current approach to governance and service delivery to ensure it is best structured to provide the platform for our future.”

The study process approved by the Regional Council on Wednesday might — or might not — meet that objective.

As usual, the devil will be in the details agreed to as the project takes shape.

Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. I would welcome an estimate by those responsible for preparing
    this bureaucratic verbiage as to what proportion of their voters and ratepayers they consider would be prepared to spend the time required to convert their statements into common English usage so that they may be generally understood. I wonder if there are others such as me that think that this number is getting less and less as time goes by and as a result the bureaucrats responsible are becoming increasingly rewarded for a job well done.

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