Auckland Council’s council-controlled organisations, or CCOs as we know them, were by legislation designed to be slightly at arms-length from the politicians. The idea
behind this (if you listened to Rodney Hide) was that professional, experienced directors would be much better placed to make decisions on big spend issues than politicians. So how has that played out over the last few years? Let’s look at two examples.
Panuku Development Auckland is a merger of two former CCOs, Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Properties Ltd. This CCO manages the land and buildings that council owns, and
continuously reviews smart ways to generate income for the region, grow their portfolio or release land or properties that can be better used by others. Looking back over the past few years, Panuku hasn’t had a glowing report card. Last year Panuku’s capital spend was a huge $31.6 million behind budget, with only 27 per cent of its CAPEX budget being spent.
Sadly, this follows a disturbing trend over the last three years, with 33 per cent of their capital programme being delivered in 2017, and 46 per cent in 2016. With the America’s Cup planning well in place, they have a whole lot more projects to deal with, on top of delivering those already delayed.
Locally, it’s Panuku which is leading the development of the Meadowbank Community Centre, and looking at options for the former Mission Bay Bowling Club site. I expect these projects to be delivered efficiently and professionally, supported by sound
communications and engagement with all associated stakeholders. To this end, I’m taking a very careful look at the performance of Panuku and challenging them to improve their delivery, monitoring and performance in this financial year, as currently they give a very poor performance impression to ratepayers.
Now to Auckland Transport (AT). Transport touches the lives of virtually every Aucklander, whether you walk, cycle, drive or use public transport, chances are AT has contributed to your experience one way or another. They are a slightly unusual CCO as they have not one but three pieces of legislation that govern them, but still they fit the CCO model and are responsible to council, reporting monthly to local boards, and quarterly to the mayor and councillors.
So how have they performed? In short, what they have done well, they have done very, very well, but what they haven’t, they really have done very badly. The good news, without doubt, is public transport. Numbers are well ahead of projections — very soon we will see 100 million public transport trips per year (up from 57m prior to the Super City).
But then there is the ongoing Quay St congestion, and the Parnell Business Association getting a week’s notice that AT were closing one lane of Parnell Rd for two weeks. Remuera’s Clonbern Rd carpark top level was closed without notice to the Remuera Business Association, and there is the whole debacle over the proposal to remove a number of carparks and add raised pedestrian crossings in St Heliers and Mission Bay, with very little evidence
(some say no evidence) to support these proposals. Add that to a ‘no show’ at a St Heliers public meeting, which had in excess of 600 people in attendance, and yes, there have been huge problems. In my opinion, the heart of it all lies with their communication and engagement – or should I say lack of it.
Legally there is only one tool which the mayor and councillors can use to hold these arms-length CCOs to account. It’s called the statement of intent process. Under legislation, each CCO is required in their statement of intent to outline their intentions and activities for the forthcoming year, provide an opportunity for shareholders to influence the direction of the CCO, and thirdly, provide a basis of accountability for the directors of the CCO to its shareholders .
Whilst these are great objectives, in my opinion the way they have been interpreted hasn’t worked for Auckland. In February, I moved a resolution for council staff to undertake a review of the statement of intent process for our CCOs. More recently, I specifically put up 10 resolutions to tighten our control over AT. Surprisingly to me, no councillor had ever done this before. The first resolution told them very clearly that their engagement and communication was unsatisfactory.
Only 10 of my fellow councillors, and the mayor, agreed with me. Do you?