Does the DomPost still have a news editor?
Opposite the page this morning that headlined Annette King’s non-story on Health discarding a few thousand dollars worth of redundant pamphlets was a tiny item noting the Local Government Commission’s admission of a $30m under-estimate of the transition cost for its preferred Uber-City model for Wellington region.
Yet the DomPost thought amalgamation important enough to dignify with a weightless supporting opinion a few months ago. And it has recorded previous LGC confusion over such trivia as cost, though it has never thought to campaign for cost benefit analysis. Could the Regional Council advertising budget have anything to do with the DomPost lack of curiousity about LGC incompetence?
Because today’s correction is a tip of the iceberg admission. There are two more glaring problems in the LGC report and draft recommendation. Will the LGC come clean on those?
First, they’ve ignored the very purposes of local government. Secondly there is a reasoning gap between their preferred solution, and their own financial analysis, that seems to show that the LGC’s objective for amalgamation is really bigness for its own sake, not the efficiency so often claimed.
Even after today’s correction ordinary people will not trust amalgamation cost estimates. Normal experience of empire-building IT and amalgamation projects should have made the LGC much more cautious about cost estimates. A glance at the woes of the Auckland integration ($100m over budget, late and still not delivered) should have been enough to tell the LGC its Wellington empire costings were unreliable.
But it may need a Court to set them straight on their other bungles.
Purposes - The LGC has set out to ignore the law that inconveniently tells them local government is about local government – that means decision-making by communities for themselves, not arrogant provincial government. The LGC is required to promote democratic local decision-making. Incredibly, in citing that criterion they blithely omit the vital statutory word “local”*. It is hard to think of more calculated ruler insolence or incompetence than a statutory body citing its own empowering legislation falsely, in the way it wants it to read, rather than how it actually reads.
Pretending the word ‘local’ is not there seems intended to help the Commission conclude that a single region-wide council with impotent/decorative local boards ranks higher in terms of [“local”] democracy than the existing genuine local self government by councils with real decision-making power.
The second bungle is equally important.
It seems the LGC chose to simply overlook efficiency – the other strand in the law for deciding on structural changes. They’ve recommended the option ranked fifth out of the eight alternatives in its own commissioned financial analysis.
Of the reorganisation options the standout performer was ‘Stronger Regional Delivery’ (the closest to the reform option advocated by Hutt City) It would build on current collaboration among the regions local authorities, for delivery of network services like transport and water. The net present value (NPV) of this option is expected to be $199m with an estimated transition cost of $129m.
In contrast, the LGC’s preferred option of a supercity is expected to cost $210m with a NPV of $58m.
How can the LGC have applied the statutory criterion when its recommended option is fifth out of the eight? How have they taken account of costs, expected returns, and implementation risks (things not turning out as hoped) if it is not in their own financial analysis?
Will there be another correction from the LGC. Will business ‘thought leaders’ in Wellington ask for them? Or might the Minister of Local Government step in as some councillors want?
Citizen opinion suspects LGC prejudice against genuine local self determination. But it is not easy for the Minister to now influence much other than the timetable. She’ll try to stay well away from the debacle looming for the LGC
*See paragraph Local Government Commission (p. 110, Section 4.96) – Draft Proposal for Reorganisation of Local Government in Wellington, Volume 2