What's next for mayor elect Phil Goff?

12:35 pm on 10 October 2016

Analysis - The big question about Phil Goff's new mayoralty is a simple one - what's the plan?

After eight months in the echo-chamber of an election campaign with increasingly shrill rhetoric, the new mayor needs to outline how he'll tackle what matters most to Aucklanders.

Mr Goff's stated top priority of lifting the council's reputation, suggests that rhetoric may still be ringing too loudly in his ears.

Phil Goff was among those to attend a meeting at the University of Auckland on 1 April 2016 after a series of violent attacks on international students.

Phil Goff won the Auckland mayoral election on Saturday by more than 70,000 votes. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

One of the most quoted pieces of information by candidates on the mayoral campaign trail was a council survey released mid-year in which only 15 percent of questioned Aucklanders expressed satisfaction with the council's performance.

Only 17 percent trusted the council to make the right decision. On the face of it, that is quite an indictment.

However, the results were similar to a nationwide survey by Victoria University, in which only 12 percent of respondents had either complete or "lots" of trust in their local council - so it was not a purely Auckland issue.

The full version of the council's survey also tells a more varied story. About 52 percent of respondents said they knew nothing or almost nothing about the council and what it does - and yet many of those had a view on trust or satisfaction.

Large parts of Auckland felt the council had a strong or superior reputation, with the least favourable views held in the city's farthest north, south, and west.

Yet the survey, and the apparent need to bring in former Air New Zealand executives Rob Fyfe and Norm Thompson for at least informal advice, was to be the first thing Mr Goff was expected to raise at today's meeting with council chief executive Stephen Town.

Mr Goff yesterday talked of the need for action to tackle homelessness, and the housing crisis. But on his to-do list, these will follow the reputation issue. If there is one.

The council will have a "to do" list for its new mayor. One of the biggest early items is preparing next year's budget - which needs to take shape before Christmas.

In Auckland's amalgamation legislation, it is the mayor who proposes the initial version of the budget - and it will give Mr Goff a chance to be seen to be delivering on some of his election promises.

He's promising a continuation of average rates rises not exceeding 2.5 percent, and of finding savings within the council of up to $72 million a year, over and above a significant efficiency drive already under way.

Mr Goff was today also making steps towards one of the most important decisions he'll make as mayor - appointing a deputy. All he would say on the matter was it would be "the best person for the job".

The deputy is not just someone to cut ribbons in the mayor's absence, but plays an essential role in maintaining cohesion among the 20 councillors, and will probably continue to do some of the policy heavy-lifting undertaken by Len Brown's two-term deputy Penny Hulse.

The mayor may need some help with cohesion, after citing as another of his top priorities an end to the "Yes, Minister" culture, referring to the 1980's British television political satire in which civil servants manouevered their slightly incompetent Cabinet Ministerial master.

Mr Goff said that attitude existed throughout government in New Zealand, but was at its pinnacle in local government.

It's a line which cast Mr Town in the role of cunning permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby, and the councillors collectively as the slightly ineffectual and malleable Rt Hon Jim Hacker.

Neither will feel flattered.

Not surprisingly for someone who has spent more than three decades in Parliament, Mr Goff is talking a lot about "the government".

In the space of three minutes in an interview with Wallace Chapman, he mentioned the government seven times.

However, as holder of the biggest-directly-elected position in the country and political leader of the biggest institution outside Parliament he will need to get up to speed quickly on the things he and the council can do regardless of the government - especially on the city's biggest challenge, the housing crisis.

Ending his parliamentary career with a valedictory speech tomorrow may help throw the switch.

But where reputation and "Yes Minister" end up on Mr Goff's eventual game plan may not be known until his inauguration speech on 1 November.

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