I was asked by media this week how I thought the Super City had performed for our community and whether, as a model, it delivered local democracy. I’m sure all residents will have reflected on these questions and have their own strong views on the matter. As the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board Chairperson for the last seven years I get over 100 emails a week and many phone calls from people who want to share their concerns and views so I have a fair idea of how many feel on the issue.
The Local Board has continued to deliver very significant projects for our area such as the extension to the Estuary Arts Centre, Stillwater Hall, Stoney Homestead and Metropark. More recently, this would also include working with others to build the Slashpad at Stanmore Bay Leisure Centre and deliver the D’Oyly Reserve daylighting project. These projects have relied heavily on our combined experience and our excellent relationships with local community groups, charitable trusts and private companies plus working closely with staff in various Council entities and our own handful of proactive and hardworking Local Board staff to make it happen.
What has made it difficult is the fractionated structure of Auckland Council with its labyrinth of organisations (some Council controlled, but not managed) that we must consult and work with if we are to deliver projects in a timely and cost-effective way. We have also found that our unique shared governance arrangement with Council can be frustrating as our local budgets have been affected by the governing body decisions to drop service or delivery standards in our key areas such as parks, environmental programmes and libraries with little consultation. These are areas that our residents love and value, and often the supposed savings are negligible but their effects are very noticeable.
Our residents tell us they would like more say in where cuts happen. In a recent consultative process, our community clearly said their priorities are better transport and more focus on parks, libraries and high service standards, but not on costly administration. While they were prepared to support a living wage for lower paid Council workers, they were alarmed at the increasing number of staff on six digit salaries. We must listen to what our people say.
For local boards to deliver better local democracy, we must have more certainty and ensure local decisions are made at a local level. We need the delegations, funding and resources to make this happen, while regional decision making should be made by the governing body as was intended under the establishment legislation. While the recent Governance Framework review exercise undertaken by Council suggested more local delegations for local boards, this is still to happen and to my mind, the review did not go far enough as Council Controlled Organisations such as Auckland Transport were not included in the review. Perhaps this can be addressed through the next Local Government Commission Review.
Local boards need to be made fully accountable for decisions made at a local level so that residents can clearly determine every three years if we have achieved what they wanted and vote accordingly. Unfortunately, the current devolved system does not allow people to gauge who does (or does not do) what.
What do you think? Is the current Auckland Council governance structure performing for our community? Our Local Board would be really interested in your views.