Since starting as a councillor for the Orakei Ward at the end of last year there has been some good progress towards the improved accountability and transparency of Auckland Council and the Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs).
CCOs are given a degree of independence from the Council by design, making it easier for them to operate commercially and to dedicate themselves to the task that they are focused on delivering for Auckland, be it Auckland Council Investments Ltd getting the best possible return on council’s commercial investments and shareholdings or Panuku Development Auckland’s role in making the most out of Council’s property assets. This freedom has at times created a source of tension between public expectations of CCOs to be transparent and accountable.
Late last year, after consultation with councilors at the Finance and Performance Committee, the Mayor sent detailed letters of expectation to each of the CCOs. This was an important first step in setting the tone for the relationship with the CCOS. These letters emphasised the need for CCOs to be accountable to the elected representatives and responsive to ratepayers and to transparently reflect their performance. Later in the year, the CCOswill respond to these letters with Statements of Intent, saying how they will operate in the coming year. Improving accountability in this area of Council operations will be an ongoing piece of work and a review of CCO Accountability is currently underway to ensure that Council is effectively and appropriately exercising control over the CCOs.
Some early steps taken include some good work by Auckland Transport and Panuku to improve the transparency of their organisations. Auckland Transport has recently published a list of its contracts, allowing the public to scrutinize the contracts that they have awarded. Auckland Council itself has been doing this for a number of years periodically publishing contract lists on the council website. Panuku has opened some its board meetings and is publishing the open board papers to improve its transparency. Given the nature of much of their work involves negotiating commercial deals this is something that can only be done in certain cases.
Transparency and Accountability: Victoria Ave Road Works
Business owners in Remuera contacted me recently, concerned that the combined effects of several pieces of road works occurring on Victoria Ave would cause significant loss of revenue, and in some cases, threaten the viability of their business. Auckland Transport and their contractor had not followed the correct practice of informing affected parties and had neglected to tell the Remuera Business Association that works impacting on the footpath were even coming. On top of that they did not design the works in such a way that would allow normal business to continue. To Auckland Transport’s credit, once alerted, the mistake was quickly admitted and corrected; the works were postponed and were split into two sections to minimise the effect on businesses with footpaths and carparks remaining open at all times.
As an elected representative I have a dual role in making the high level direction for the council and then in holding the council organisations to account in performing its duties. When this happens against a background of low trust and scepticism towards the organisation's ability to deliver there are additional challenges. Receiving an email that says that Auckland Transport will be responsible for putting shop owners out of business through failure to communicate is the sort of thing that can never be acceptable from an organisation that serves the public.