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Common-wealth Government

Written By: - 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:

1. WHY

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).

2. HOW

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.

3. WHICH

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:

1. Northland,

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.

Why?

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.

5. EXAMPLES

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.

6. M&A

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.

7. PROOF

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

16 comments on “Common-wealth Government ”

  1. Dukeofurl 1

    Southern DHB is already merged…maybe 5 years ago

    https://www.health.govt.nz/new-zealand-health-system/my-dhb

    What will happen this will re create the previously disbanded Health Funding Authorities -HFA which National created in the 90s . There were something like 5 or 6 , except it has even more.

    Existing DHBs work with each other – often through long established transport routes , ie West Coast and Canterbury , Nelson-Marlborough is with Wellington.

  2. Sacha 2

    Prioritising geographic location is 19th century thinking. Our nation is the size of a city. That has huge advantages for us if we do not govern by suburb or shire.

    • Dukeofurl 2.1

      Distance matters.

      Even Sydney with a population around that of all NZ, has 8 local health districts for different parts of the city ( another 7 for the rest of NSW)

      Some of the posts comments such as

      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.

      This ignores the previous Auckland wide single transport body ARTA, which essentially became AT .

      Its often just a renaming of existing bureaucracy and Advantages proposals are that writ large . Baffles me why drawing lines on maps and creating/recreating organisation reporting trees fascinates people so much. Often the Greens ideas on decentralisation to communities are far more interesting

      • lprent 2.1.1

        This ignores the previous Auckland wide single transport body ARTA, which essentially became AT .

        Your grasp of the crucial detail may be lacking. Just because there is a single body doesn't mean that it was able to act on its own.

        What he was referring to was that in Auckland the previous smaller councils each effectively had a veto over most of the ARA / ARTA transport policies through funding and tradeoffs.

        This was the main reason (in my observation) about why there was virtually no change in even basics like new or changed bus routes from when I was a kid back in the 1960s and 1970s until the last decade. I may not like some of the adaptations* but they now keep changing rather than deadlocking.

        Things inside the ARA / ARTA like fixing the changing bus routes outside of new developments, adding bus lanes, adding bike lanes virtually all got vetoed or stymied for decades. Often they only got put in when NZTA insisted under prompting from the government – and when they funded it.

        Basically the best thing that happened to the transport in Auckland was getting a single council. Many of us native Aucklanders have wanted that for most of our life.

        Now that isn't to say that super-shitty structure that Act and Rodney Hide figured would give them political control on Auckland is ideal or what we desired. Nor was the completely separated structure of AT from the council outside of ownership. But despite the way that it was inflicted on us by a small cortiere of blinkered and tone deaf ideological nutbars chasing their own interests, just having a single funding council is what has been required for decades to break the logjams from everything from transport to sewerage.

        The royal commission version would have been at least an order of magnitude better suited to the conditions. That is why we're seeing annoying inequity creeping in about service delivery (Goff referred to one here). The slow voluntary devolvement of powers from the super council to local boards well beyond the legislative requirement has been helping to reintroduce a local component.

        But the rates have equalised to reduce the freeloader suburb issues (a big issue previously in causing deadlocks in bodies like the ARTA) and we now get plans that are capable of being put into practice for the good of all of Auckland rather just for the benefit of the NIMBYs and freeloaders who could scream the loudest

        //————-

        * try getting a single bus from Grey Lynn to the University without too much walking and you'll see what I mean. With older age, I now have a partial crippling on my right foot due to a pad wearing out between my big toe and foot bones. Walking is a pain…

        • Dukeofurl 2.1.1.1

          The link gives the detail you are asking about.

          ARTA's roles included:

          • Integrating transport planning in the Auckland Region, with a goal of an efficient and sustainable network providing modal choice
          • Prioritising transport projects in Auckland and making recommendations on funding (especially since the NZ Transport Agency-related law changes of 2008)
          • Operating the passenger rail network in Auckland in cooperation with KiwiRail, and improving stations, trains and maintenance facilities
          • Designing and operating bus and ferry services….etc etc

          I dont know about any funding tradeoffs ….the ARC applied its own rates which were initially 'added to existing Councils collection' of rates and then the ARC issued it own invoices directly.

          Like all road funding , the Government then and now 'subsidises' local projects according to arcane formulae and bureaucractic stalling …remember the CRL delays by central government . Its as it always was
          Indeed the Auckland double tracking and electrification was ARTA and HAD to happen before a CRL could even start

          AT ? It relies on funding from Auckland Council, so is even more constrained than ARC/ARTA was

          • Ad 2.1.1.1.1

            ARTA was in constant conflict with the demands of other Councils and struggled to do much at all. Double tracking was a Kiwirail job with direct Treasury funding, not NLTP.

            Merging the Councils and unifying the bureaucracy has actually delivered the results ARTA should have. For example in public transport use.

            AT is the entity that sets all the funding application levels and applies to the NLTP. It’s done so with Council direction, and consults with the public in parallel.

      • Ad 2.1.2

        Surprisingly few who were in ARTA transferred to AT.

        ARTA completely failed to generate a single card, and Infratil continued to oppose it right through to 2011. AT really did make a difference there.

        ARTA also played around with CRLL (as had many others since WW1), but plans only became serious under AT who formed a dedicated team for it, and AC who brokered the deal in 2012 with what was then AMP Properties, and then AT and AC negotiating with the Kay-led government for several years to partner up and signing on in Oct 2016.

        So you are simply wrong on both counts.

        Thanks for trying to contribute, but you are indeed baffled.

        • Dukeofurl 2.1.2.1

          You dont have any links …well I do and guess what ?

          "Near the start of the new millennium, the Auckland Regional Authority revived the push for electrification and for expansion of a passenger rail network. This was championed by the authority's chair and long-time public transport advocate Mike Lee.

          "In 2009, KiwiRail and Auckland's regional transport agency (ARTA) announced it would start a detailed study into the possibility of an underground route that would link the Britomart rail terminal with the Mount Eden railway station."

          https://www.cityraillink.co.nz/auckland-rail-renaissance#top

          Double tracking and electrification had to happen before the CRL could begin, these projects were either under way or detailed investigations had begun before Super City and AT . Indeed ARTA couldnt do more as of course they were abolished along with the ARC in Nov 2010 very soon after they started on CRL !!

          The issues on the card used by Infratil and their buses ( Snapper) and the HOP card are far too complicated for me to explain and I was living out of Auckland at the time, but thanks to Greater Auckland who covered it in detail we can find out what and when.

          But the new Hop card system seemed to begin on buses in May 2011 , 6 months after the Super city began . This means that it was planned before AT existed !!

          https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2011/05/20/tactics-for-the-second-hop-changover/

          No need to patronise me , my very first job was in Transport planning for the ARC. It wasnt a career path I followed but I remained interested in the background

  3. Stuart Munro. 3

    Although the idea is on the face of it attractive, it needs to be considered who will be taking the measurements, and which they will prioritize. Thus far it would seem to be bureaucrats, and so the system would favour the outcomes that reflect well on them – bush robin numbers perhaps, as opposed to kea numbers.

    In principle the measurements already exist within a democracy, so that when a citizen notices a significant negative phenomenon, they report it, and the resources of the state analyze and act to resolve it.

    The problem lies in practice, where problematic behaviour is often shown to be entrenched. Abuse in churches and social agencies. Rent-seeking behaviour in road safety or house construction permits. Ideological capture among state economists.It was bureaucratic convenience not population science that drove the introduction of the disasterous fisheries quota management system.

    The test for the integrity of reforms is whether they preserve or extend the opportunities available to the individual – whether that individual is expressed as Solon's ideal small farmer or Rawls's most disadvantaged person. A bureaucracy that respects the individual, which NZ had prior to Rogergnomics, can be both humane and efficient. One that does not merely proliferates injustice.

    • Ad 3.1

      This government has no shortage of measurements of its social performance.

      It's passed a law with the support of Treasury about them.

      They're just not yet at a point where they are telling a coherent story about them, for the public to be able to evaluate them – and then vote accordingly.

  4. McFlock 4

    Quarterly measures of generational problems can be misleading, e.g. poverty. A bit of bounce even from year to year is to be expected, the real performance measure is on a multi-year trend. It just gives BS for media and political wonks to jump up and down about.

    Not sure about the efficiency of forcing all agencies to share the same district boundaries, either. Great from a macro level, might be a bit weird on a local operational level for some agencies.

    I'm also not sure that the savings on fewer ministers wouldn't be swallowed by local government salaries increasing to deal with their increased workload.

    • Ad 4.1

      We have plenty of good data trends that come out quarterly already and give a god sense of where we are. They are mostly economic, such as GDP, unemployment, and inflation. But they don't have a parallel set of social measures come out at the same time, and it would make the government performance much more useful if they did.

      • McFlock 4.1.1

        How?

        Even if it's based off measures freshly gathered each quarter (rather than wishful IDI-based interpolations), there's an undetermined lag between policy implementation and measurable impact. Even many of the current measures are of questionable frequency. Would it be so bad if GDP were reported as an annual measure?

        I'm all for distributing useful information to the population, if it allows them to draw meaningful conclusions. The kiwibuild progress monitor, for example. But at some level of granularity measures cease being useful monitors and become just fodder for pundits. "ooo, up this month!" "sudden fall this quarter!". And the expression "no meaningful change from last year" gets lost amongst the frantic purveyors of doom.

  5. Jackel 5

    Yes, I sort of see where you're going with this. Except for trade things do happen mostly at the regional level. Not sure New Zealand has the scale for this though. Cross agency cooperation where government operates more as a single animal rather than a whole lot of individual parts is more efficient and effective for service delivery.

    I believe that government should facilitate more in people's lives rather than just picking up the pieces of capitalisms failures. But then as long as we have a capitalist system this unfortunately will be the main role of any government.

  6. AB 6

    Efficiency of execution is nice – though I actually doubt that the efficiency of any particular organisational arrangement can be accurately predicted beforehand, except maybe at a really gross level. Ultimately though, efficiency is just a matter of low-level housekeeping. What stops things from getting done is not inefficiency or poor structural alignment of operating parts or whatever – it's a lack of broad moral and intellectual commitment to the goal.

    • Ad 6.1

      I agree, but we've had enough structural revolutions in the bureaucracy over 150 years to be ale to see which ones worked better and which ones worked really badly.

      I do see your point about goals – this government has plenty of that. But they remain pretty crap at execution. They have taken too long to address the structures they have to achieve their dreams.

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