27 Feb 2014

Councillor role on agency questioned

6:39 am on 27 February 2014

A consultant's report has questioned whether two Auckland councillors should continue to sit on the board of the city's transport agency.

The report by consultants PWC is one of two kicking off a 16-month review by Auckland Council of how it and its seven council-controlled organisations (CCOs) have been getting on.

 Auckland Transport says the challenge to boost passenger numbers remains alive.

The report questions the merit of having councillors on Auckland Transport's board. Photo: RNZ

As well as questioning the merit of having councillors on the board of Auckland Transport, PWC's summary of unnamed views from within the organisations also asks whether the Government should have a bigger role in the agency.

Auckland Transport - the biggest of the council's seven agencies - is required by law to have two councillors on its board - currently Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee.

The government transport agency has one seat on the board, and PWC says that does not reflect the level of Government funding to Auckland Transport.

A parallel report by Auckland Council weighs up the council's experience with the organisations. It expressed general satisfaction, as the new arrangement has bedded in during the past three years.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy and director Mike Lee.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy and director Mike Lee. Photo: RNZ

The report commissioned by the council from PWC does not specify where any views come from. It says: "the presence of councillors on the board (of Auckland Transport) is inconsistent with the model deployed for other CCOs. In addition, AT's current governance does not reflect its funding (from the New Zealand Transport Agency)."

NZTA, the government's transport agency, has one seat on the Auckland Transport board and part funds much of the Auckland agency's projects.

Auckland Transport chair Lester Levy told Radio New Zealand News the comments cited were not his, but did say that having two seats allocated to councillors skews the mix of skills held by the board.

Dr Levy says the board still lacks a director with expertise in logistics, and has had to co-opt a qualified accountant onto a board committee to bring in the required skills.

Legislation which set up Auckland Transport, allocated two seats to councillors, - currently Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee.

Read the full documents here

The organisations

The CCOs were a controversial part of the 2010 restructuring of Auckland's local bodies, and their roles were prescribed in legislation. The organisations run everything from water, roads and transport, through to sports grounds and public events and most of the council's spending goes through them.

The organisations were set up to bring greater commercial focus to day-to-day operations, with politicians being kept at arms length. Each has its own board of directors and management, and has an annual agreement with the council.

Critics prior to amalgamation feared a corporate takeover of local body work, with politicians kept at arms length.

The seven CCOs are : Auckland Transport, Watercare Services, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development, Auckland Council Investments Limited, Auckland Council Property, Regional Facilities Agency, and Auckland Waterfront Development Agency.

Council report

Recurring themes in PWC's report are general satisfaction among the CCOs but a desire for the politicians to better understand them.

The council's parallel report reflecting the view of politicians and council executives also expressed general satisfaction, as the new arrangement has bedded in during the past three years.

However it highlights a desire for better co-ordination between the council and the seven CCOs, and perhaps chances to share common services such as communication, and legal advice.

Some unnamed councillors questioned whether there were too many agencies, and some pointed to overlapping roles between Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), the Regional Facilities Agency and the council itself.

Auckland councillors will carry out the review of the current arrangement over the next few months, with final decisions on any changes, to be made by June 2015.