Review calls for better communication between Auckland Council and its five business entities

Much better communication is needed between Auckland Council and its five business entities tasked with managing the council’s substantial assets.

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There have been 64 recommendations made after a review of the council-controlled organisations. Source: 1 NEWS

The need for clearer working guidelines and objectives are among 64 new recommendations in a specially commissioned review of the council-controlled organisations, or CCOs. They include Watercare, Auckland Transport and ATEED, which has oversight for large events, tourism and development.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff called for the independent review, which was undertaken by chairperson Miriam Dean QC and panellists Doug Martin and Leigh Auton.

He says a range of processes need to be put in place to ensure the Auckland Council gives the organisations clearer guidance and direction.

“The changes that need to be made need to be made from both sides,” says Mr Goff.

“The culture of some CCOs does need to change. They need to be more responsive, more accountable. But we have a responsibility on council, too, to set the strategic direction much more clearly.”

The review panel considered thousands of public submissions and consulted with staff, senior managers and councillors.

The findings of the six-month review reveal a lack of clarity and direction from the council, which appears to have left some organisations trying to interpret what was expected of them.

The review findings offered up a number of examples. They include: 

Climate Policy

“In the Auckland Climate Action Plan is ‘employment in low carbon and climate innovation as a share of employment and GDP in Auckland’s economy.’ What this means, let alone how it might be put into practice and measured, is far from clear to us.”

Auckland Transport’s strategy in 2019 to lower speed limits in areas of Auckland to satisfy council’s desire for fewer road deaths and injuries

“No one disputes the strategy was met with a ‘backlash', as one interviewee put it, from both the governing body and Auckland residents. The simple fact is all this occurred in a strategy vacuum that Auckland Transport was merely trying to navigate.”

Lack of strategy on Auckland’s stadiums

“Auckland has been working on a strategy since 2012 when the council first made the request. Eight years on, no strategy has been adopted…

"There is a pressing need to consider the future of all Auckland’s stadiums – including Eden Park – to ensure ratepayers’ money is spent to maximum effect.”

The lack of detailed, well-reasoned strategies for CCOs to implement

“CCO boards, quite justifiably, have ‘painted in’ the gaps in strategy by making operational decisions, only to sometimes incur the displeasure and ire of councillors who consider such decisions to be theirs to make.

"The confusion about roles is, in truth, about a lack of delineation between where the council’s strategy responsibilities should end and where CCOs’ operational responsibilities should begin.”

The review points to a running down of council staff affecting the council’s strategy-making capability.

It also points out that despite 450 council staff working on plans like the Unitary Plan and Auckland Plan, no one is “developing strategies to guide CCOs in any practical sense”.

The review says this is surprising “given CCOs' central role in providing so many of the council’s services and infrastructure’.

The review comes as Auckland faces a severe water shortage and Watercare is under fire over the $775,00 salary of chief executive Raveen Jaduram.

Mr Goff says he has moved to control high executive salaries but concedes attracting quality staff and remuneration is a balancing act.

He also endorses the panel’s view that, overall, CCOs do good work and says he will deliver additional support to fix problems.

“While council staff overall will be cut with Covid-19, we will be employing people in key strategic areas that can give the level of advice that council needs to make sure that the CCOs are moving in the right direction.”

It has been nearly 10 years since Auckland became a supercity and the CCOs were created. Aucklanders will be watching closely to see whether this latest expensive report brings change, along with the forecasted $67 million in savings.