- Date published:
8:14 am, November 18th, 2019 - 16 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, Conservation, economy, Economy, education, health, law, law and "order", local government, police, public services, public transport, transport, treasury, uncategorized, water, welfare - Tags:
Since I’ve been complaining about lack of structural reform from this government, I felt it was time to test an idea out. I thought I’d sketch out a common accountability framework for the government. It goes like this:
If the goals of eradicating poverty and other social ills are to be achieved, the public sector needs to be a whole lot more coherent than it is. The current targets are set out in their legislative framework here.
With the support of Treasury, this government now has enduring long term targets to achieve. But the motivations to force strong cooperation across Departments just aren’t there. Great targets, but pretty much same system (horizontal coherence was last tried in a weak form under the Growth and Innovation Framework).
The best way to achieve the necessary strong coherence across government is to layer each of the government disciplines onto common administrative areas; enable them to interact; enable them to identify and stabilize common effort; and then act upon their common public policy criteria as laid out in the Wellbeing Budget.
Each year as this horizontal coherence grows, they all gain greater accuracy and agency over results for society, communities, and people. They get to be held accountable to the common cause.
They seriously aren’t at the moment other than in small or temporary instances. As a reminder, here’s how the 2019 Wellbeing Budget puts the money to the targets.
Administrative boundaries would be the same for Police, Education, Health, Transport, Social Welfare, Housing, Economic Development, and in time water quality. Get that bunch going to start with, layered on top of each other, and others such as Conservation, Corrections and Justice can join in later.
The mergers would emphatically not enable a grab by central government for power. On the contrary it would require the regions to actually have policy coherence about themselves, and put those bids up each November and December in time for Budget formation.
It would however require some mergers in some agencies, and require splits in others. For example, you would merge the District Health Boards down from 21 to 9, like so:
2. Auckland (merge three),
3. Waikato-Lakes (merge two),
4. East Coast (merge three),
5. West Coast (merge three),
6. Wellington (merge three),
7. Canterbury (merge two),
8. Upper and Western South Islands (merge two),
9. Southern (merge two)
These 9 administrative areas would have the same boundary for all agencies. Departments would all then need to show how their common efforts were giving effect to the targets set in the budget.
It would mean mergers in Health, but it would also mean splitting some operational areas such as in transport and Police. But you can imagine a call centre in which agencies get to triage and intervene from one domestic violence callout from Police to Housing to Social Welfare to Justice to … wherever the best set of support needs to go to get from emergency to short your selves out a permanently as possible.
That is, just extend what’s already happening already, but formalizing it.
You could also do away with a bunch of largely meaningless Ministerial positions and false territories and quango bullshit across Wellington as well (pearl clutching!).
This common accountability government allows for a much stronger budgeting, operational, and political filament between regional and national government: regional identity is strengthened by being broadened, rather than diluted and disrespected like a Super 12 franchise system.
Because budget bids become regionalized: all follow the money.
This doesn’t require any legislative devolution to local government (clutching of pearls!). Just requires the administrative regionalization we already have to be more coherent.
It doesn’t necessarily mean heading for an Australian Federal-State-Local administrative layering. On the contrary it means those who represent at the regional level are in a real hot seat to both execute well, support all agencies in the area, and secure unanimity across budget bids for proven results.
4. WHATABOUT …?
There are going to be arguments about optimized administrative size being different for each operational and Ministerial discipline (e.g. everyone wanting a brain surgeon, or an international airport, or be “chief” something). There are also going to be arguments about effectively bringing back a regional government system that we did away with in the late 19th century.
I don’t claim technical expertise about multi-disciplinary size optimization across the public sector nor across each discipline. The logic of nationalization would find limits for example in NZSuper, Pharmac, ACC, NZDF, RBNZ, IRD and others, regulators, national research bodies, and systemic admin.
An argument against regionalization is currently in play in the nationalization of Polytechs. Wait and see on that one.
The effect however will be public servants knowing how their effort gives effect to NZ results in the regional and societal whole, not just serving the interest of their Department Chief Executive as is the case now. They will succeed if they all cooperate together.
I can foresee a few benefits, guided by recent history.
The Christchurch and then North Canterbury Earthquakes have shown how government agencies can and do work together to build and rebuild whole societies when they have been damaged.
It’s not easy. It pisses a lot of people off.
But then, you get re-energized societies and environments emerge out of it.
Local government, education administration, transport administration, health service administration, housing, and justice administration all got a good wakeup across Canterbury.
They all figured out how to cooperate because they all had to.
And it’s high time a report was done on how much better than cooperation could have been in Christchurch.
There has been a tepid version of what I propose in what is called TSI; Auckland’s Southern Initiative.
Hobsonville was another case in which many agencies worked together to build effectively a new large town in New Zealand from scratch – with spectacular results.
For all its downsides and structural defects, the merger of Auckland’s Councils into one is another big signal of the benefits of strong regional alignment.
There was no way Auckland was going to have a common public transport card without the merger.
There was no way that the City Rail Link of the entire revival of the city centre would have happened either.
Wellington is now the horrible counterfactual to Auckland’s transport planning: very hard to imagine saying that 10 years ago. Layered and regionalized government such as I postulate allows society to cooperate to achieve bigger step-changes than they could before.
With strong horizontally-and-vertically- alined government, there’s very little point having many of the central agencies. Little point to MoT, MoH, MoE, MSD, etc.
Devolving some of their expertise to the regions and doing away with the foolish policy-provider agency splits that have mired execution since New Public Management entered into Wellington in the late 1980s seriously needs doing as well.
And then there’s the environmental turn embedded within the Zero Carbon bill. Regional government forces the whole of the public sector to engage spatially, more so than centrally as they do now: central policy coherence is traded off against a central government focus upon recourse allocation and accountability to aggregate results.
Treasury would be the focal point of reporting into this common accountability framework.
Resource allocation is, after all, is the primary task of each government and the primary task of parliament to hold that allocation to account.
One might also expect to see published quarterly tables online and in newspapers that show results for each region:
– Jail numbers
– Traffic deaths and injuries
– Proportion of people getting poorer
– Proportion of people getting sicker
– Proportion of people who need a house
– Number of rivers cleaned up
– Which native bird numbers are going up
– Total Not in Education Employment or Training (NEETS)
– CO2 decreased or mitigated from a baseline.
You could choose your own Top Ten.
Vote accordingly every three years, on the published and tracked results and less on the ideology.
Novel I know. In time the metrics would stabilize and would be accepted across all major parties, and across multiple political terms.
It would of course generate inter-regional rivalry and resource contests – but to be frank that’s a good thing.
At the moment we have Auckland always suspected of taking “more” than its “fair share”, because it’s over a third of the entire country both positively and negatively. Facts schmacts: we know there’s a sucking noise from Auckland and its getting louder and louder.
Regionalisation of government is another way of re-setting this distending pull.
Anyway. Vertical and horizontal common accountability frameworks. For a country this size, it’s time to re-fit government to region, and formally map resource to result.