SHOULD PARLIAMENT SORT OUT THE AUCKLAND COUNCIL?
By Richard Harman (author)
Pressure is slowly mounting on the Government to review the legislation governing the Auckland Council.
And the issue has the potential to cool relations between the Government and its Auckland party members if the Auckland Council does not become more user friendly.
ACT Leader David Seymour is leading the charge with his party planning a one day conference next month in which he will float some ideas for change in Auckland.
But there are National Party members and MPs who also believe the time may be coming to change the legislation to make the Council more accountable to voters.
However the Minister of Local Government, Paula Bennet, has no plans at present to change the legislation.
She may not be able to hold that position interminably.
Questions about the Council surfaced at the National Party’s northern regional conference earlier this year and more recently POLITIK understands that similar questions have been asked at party meetings in Auckland.
One Auckland MP told POLITIK that he would be open to any change that would make the Council less remote and more accountable.
However centre-right Mayoral candidate Mark Thomas told POLITIK that he thought better leadership in Auckland could help solve the problem.
Mr Seymour says that a large amount of the work that he deals with as Epsom MP relates to the Auckland Council.
“People are frustrated about rates and remotesss,” he told POLITIK.
What is ironic is that the Auckland Council legislation was designed by former ACT leader, Rodney Hide.
Now Mr Seymour favours amendment.
He says that the super-city has achieved a lot in terms of regional services like transport.
“But I think we should be open to continuous improvement.”
He will not reveal precisely what he will propose at the ACT conference but it is clear he favours greater powers and responsibilities being given to local boards.
And because he is critical of the way the boards operate without any responsibility for raising the money they spend, he may also favour some taxing powers being given to the boards.
National MPs who spoke to POLITIK would not go that far.
But Auckland Central MP Nicky Kaye said she frequently got criticism that the city did not provide what she called “citizen centric” services.
And Mr Thomas said he thought it might be worthwhile re-allocating budgets from lower regional priorities to higher priorities at the local level.
He suggested boards could take on increasing responsibilities for local facilities governance, town centre planning and local transport.
“I know David is concerned about this and legislative changes could help --- in case we don’t get the new mayoral leadership we need!”
Essentially what is being talked about is a devolution of power away from the centre in Auckland back to the local boards.
It is a contentious argument because some will see it as an admission that the Auckland super-city experiment has failed.
So far it’s been easy to blame Auckland failures on Mayor Len Brown and a divided Council, but the issues that Mr Seymour is talking about go beyond that.
He says that if you look right across the economy people are moving away from broad central brands and just as there is a growing market for craft beer rather than national brands, so people want their Council services and politicians to be closer to them.
The ACT local government conference is in just over two weeks.