Supercity Concerns

Lots of noise starting to be made around the structure of both the Transition Agency and the eventual form the super council will take with regards to CCO’s. This recent post by Russell Brown and the opinion piece from Michael Barnett that pre-empted it cover some of the concerns pretty well:

I’ve heard from several people involved with the ATA’s work that they’re concerned about the lack of accountability in the agency, the apparently unchecked costs of its work and the sweeping mandate accorded to the ATA’s head, Mark Ford. The agency has been described to me as “a de facto ministry, with Mark Ford as the Minister.”

Where the comparison falls down, of course, is that we elect ministers.

Until you get to the council-controlled organisation, or CCOs, which are being developed under a different – and, as Barnett noted, much less accountable – process.

CCOs will carry out various of the forthcoming Auckland Council’s functions. The ATA’s current thinking is that there will be seven CCOs, three of which — Watercare, Transport and the Waterfront Development Agency – will be established under the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill, the third of the three super-city bills.

The accountability of the three key CCOs to the forthcoming, elected Auckland Council is extremely questionable. And this isn’t trivial. Watercare will control Auckland’s water resources and set user charges. The Auckland Transport Agency, will have control of Auckland’s transportation contracts.

It’s pretty much a given that there will be power struggles between the Auckland Council and these CCOs. But the ATA has particular advantages here: it decides where the assets of current council CCOs go. It can veto the decisions of the councils, including those on spending. And it has a free hand to run up debt in the name of Auckland ratepayers.

There’s more: Watercare, Ford’s previous employer, has a fairly extraordinary deal in the third bill. It will not officially become a CCO until mid-2012. Until then it will be largely beyond the reach of the elected council – and it has the power to propose bylaws to the Auckland Council, which, with a few exceptions, must accept them.

In all this, the ATA is accountable to only one Auckland voter – the Minister of Local Government, Rodney Hide. So you’d better be trusting Rodney.

Meanwhile, the ATA needs only the approval of Rodney Hide and Bill English to raise debts that the Auckland Council will own henceforth. Potentially, the ATA could raise the $100 million that Murray McCully wants Auckland to spend on his World Cup waterfront project and pass the money to the Waterfront Development Agency, whose directors will be appointed by Rodney Hide on the recommendation of the ATA.

Brown reflects my feelings pretty well – I’m in support of the supercity, think it’s the only way forward, but the structure leaves much to be desired, the fact that it will be FPP opens up problems in the future, and the simple fact that too much of it seems to be coming out of Wellington. As it stands, there is NOTHING stopping McCully and Hide getting together, building the $100m Queens Wharf option against the will of Aucklanders, and then sticking Auckland ratepayers with the bill.

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