Part 1: Introduction

Local Authorities Working Together.


It is now widely accepted that, by working together, public sector organisations can find ways to improve their effectiveness and efficiency, and to provide better services and outcomes for the public dollar.

Internationally, public bodies are increasingly being encouraged to consider working more closely together to provide services to the public and to operate more efficiently. For example, the Audit Commission for England and Wales has issued guidance on the benefits and pitfalls of partnerships.2

Within central and local government in New Zealand, there has been an increasing recognition of the need for public bodies to work together to meet their common goals. For example, in October 2003, we published a report3 that commented on the efforts and achievements of the four core criminal justice agencies in working together to achieve the Government’s outcomes.

In addition, Standards New Zealand set out the likely advantages and disadvantages of sharing services in its 2003 publication Guide to Local Government Service Delivery Options4 and the Ministry of Social Development issued a good practice guide5 for regional co-ordination and integrated service delivery. A number of adjoining local authorities are currently exploring opportunities for working together as a region or as a sector.

Under the Local Government Act 2002 (the Act), local authorities are required to carry out their activities as effectively and efficiently as possible.6 Working together may be one way for them to do so.

Moreover, local authorities perform common functions and carry out similar activities. Staff often need similar skills and expertise, and tackle similar challenges, such as meeting new standards or complying with new legislation.

The Act expressly permits local authorities to exercise their powers by engaging in a joint undertaking, a joint activity, or a co-operative activity.7 We refer to these as joint arrangements.

What is a Joint Arrangement?

Local authorities can work together in many ways. These joint arrangements could involve:

  • providing services that cross territorial boundaries;
  • jointly contracting for goods or services;
  • establishing common standards and guidelines;
  • sharing resources such as staff;
  • forming a separate body to carry out common functions on their behalf; or
  • forming a consortium to share the cost of products or services.

What Were Our Audit Objectives?

The objectives of our audit were to:

  • assess whether joint arrangements of local authorities were well managed and provided value for money;
  • identify the potential benefits of and obstacles to working together, drawing on the experiences of local authorities involved in such joint arrangements;
  • provide guidance for local authorities considering involvement in a joint arrangement; and
  • examine specific joint arrangements in depth.

How Did We Carry Out Our Audit?

Our first step was to establish the nature and extent of working together in the sector, by seeking information from all local authorities. To do this, we carried out a survey in May and June 2003, identifying a wide range of joint arrangements among local authorities. The responses to our survey showed very different levels of interest in and commitment to working together in the regions and by local authorities.

To assess how well the joint arrangements were being managed and whether they were producing benefits, we chose 12 as case studies from the information provided by local authorities. We undertook the case studies between October and December 2003 by:

  • interviewing local authority chief executives and staff and, where relevant, councillors; and
  • obtaining supporting documents to establish how each joint arrangement came about and how it was managed, and to identify costs and benefits.

Our audit was designed to assess against a set of broad expectations of good practice whether the selected joint arrangements were being well managed and providing value for money. We expected that:

  • Local authorities involved in joint arrangements would have a clearly articulated strategy for working together.
  • Local authorities would adopt a rational process for choosing opportunities for working together.
  • Joint arrangements would be soundly managed.
  • The working relationship between the parties would be underpinned by a clearly defined and understood partnership arrangement.

In drawing up our expectations we consulted agencies involved in a range of collaborative ventures, such as Transit New Zealand (in respect of roading network management) and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (in respect of regional civil defence and emergency management groups).

We gathered similar information about each joint arrangement in order to make a comparative assessment. For each case study, we assessed:

  • strategies for working together;
  • how each joint arrangement came about; and
  • project management.

We then verified the factual accuracy of our summaries of the 12 case studies with the relevant local authorities, and identified:

  • instances of good practice; and
  • any matters of concern – and provided the results directly to the relevant local authorities.

How Did We Choose the Case Studies?

We chose case studies to encompass, as far as possible, a mix of local authorities, such as:

  • large and small;
  • in different locations, including Auckland as the major population centre;
  • regional and territorial; and
  • urban and rural.

We also looked at a range of large-scale and small-scale joint arrangements, including activities required by statute, and formal and informal arrangements.

We excluded the following forms of working together from the scope of our audit:

  • joint ventures formed not primarily for the purposes of working together but with wider or commercial objectives, such as tourism or economic development;
  • contracts for the supply of services to local authorities;
  • local-government-wide schemes or requirements, such as those for the regional organisation of civil defence;
  • arrangements for the funding of regional facilities such as stadiums and museums; and
  • those arrangements that involve a Council-Controlled Organisation to jointly deliver a service.

The joint arrangements that we chose as case studies are shown in Figure 1 on the opposite page. A more detailed explanation of each case study is provided in the Appendix on pages 67-92.

Figure 1
Case Studies of 12 Joint Arrangements

Name of Case Study Participants Brief Description
Amalgamation of Rural Fire Services Southland District Council, Invercargill City Council, Gore District Council, the Department of Conservation Southland Conservancy, and Southern Plantations (a consortium of forest owners). An agreement between five organisations, including three local authorities, to establish a combined Southland rural fire district.
The Auckland Libraries Smarter Systems Project. Auckland City Council, Manukau City Council, North Shore City Council, Rodney District Council, and Waitakere City Council. An agreement between five local authorities to collectively evaluate the costs, benefits, and feasibility of a consortia purchase of a replacement library management system.
The Auckland Traffic Management Unit. Auckland City Council, North Shore City Council, Manukau City Council, Waitakere City Council, and Transit New Zealand. An arrangement to integrate the traffic control systems of each participant.
Canterbury Sharing of Energy Management Expertise. Christchurch City Council and Hurunui District Council. An arrangement for Christchurch City Council to provide energy management expertise on a cost-recovery basis to a smaller, rural council.
E-Local Government in the Auckland region. North Shore City Council, Auckland City Council, Auckland Regional Council, Manukau City Council, Rodney District Council, Waitakere City Council, Franklin District Council, and Papakura District Council. A working party set up to co-ordinate and monitor progress of the Auckland region’s E-Local Government vision.
Geographic Information Systems and the Auckland Area Orthophotography Standard. North Shore City Council, Auckland City Council, Auckland Regional Council, Manukau City Council, Rodney District Council, Waitakere City Council, Franklin District Council, and Papakura District Council. A Geographic Information Systems Working Group set up to establish a common Orthophotography Standard for the Auckland region.
Information Technology Outsourcing Arrangements. Opotiki District Council and Environment Bay of Plenty. An arrangement for Environment Bay of Plenty to provide information technology support to Opotiki District Council.
The Our Way – Southland Project. Environment Southland, Southland District Council, Invercargill City Council, and Gore District Council. The four Southland local authorities agreeing to work together on a shared vision for their Long Term Council Community Plans.
The Regional Council Information Technology Consortium. Horizons*, Waikato, Taranaki, Southland, West Coast and Otago Regional Councils. Information technology database modules specifically designed for Regional Councils.
Shared Staffing in Taranaki South Taranaki District Council and New Plymouth District Council. Two staff from New Plymouth District Council seconded part-time to South Taranaki District Council.
Planning the Wairarapa Coastal Strategy. Wellington Regional Council, Masterton District Council, Carterton District Council, South Wairarapa District Council, and the two Wairarapa Iwi – Rangitaane o Wairarapa and Ngati Kahungungu ki Wairarapa. A working party set up to prepare an agreed coastal strategy for the Wairarapa Coast.
Water Services Integration in Wellington. Wellington City Council and Hutt City Council. A joint unit that manages water services for the two local authorities.

* Horizons Regional Council is the trading name of the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council.

2: Audit Commission, A Fruitful Partnership, 1998, ISBN 1 86240 075 X.

3: Report of the Controller and Auditor-General, Co-ordination and Collaboration in the Criminal Justice Sector, October 2003, ISBN 0-478-18108-6.

4: Standards New Zealand Handbook, 2003, SNZ HB 9213:2003.

5: Ministry of Social Development, Mosaics, 2003, ISBN 0-478-25138-6. The publication describes good practice for government agencies, Māori groups, local authorities, community and voluntary sector groups, and Pacific groups working together on regional co-ordination and integrated service delivery.

6: Section 14.

7: Section 12.

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