Is there an alternative to amalgamation to provide cost savings and better services?

Why this question is important:

For people dissatisfied with the current arrangements it may seem that amalgamation is the only option for improvement. It seems that the only choice is amalgamation or not.

Is this a binary decision?

In your voting pack the ballot paper provides two options:

  • for the proposal
  • against the proposal

It's easy to assume then that it's a simple choice between change and no change. But, that's only to a change of structure, it doesn't mean that our councils need to keep operating as they do with a minimum of cooperation and on their own.

The "status quo"

A vote against the proposed amalgamation, retains the "status quo" structure but that doesn't have to mean that no change is possible.

Shared Services

The three councils meet under the umbrella of Shared Services where they work out areas of common interest and cooperate and collaborate in Wairarapa-wide matters.

An example is WAIConnect a project to get funding for and implementation of high speed internet in the Wairarapa.

The three councils have collaborated to develop a common liquor policy and saved $1.4m through joint contract provisions for road maintenance.

There is plenty of scope for advancing this further. The costs of setting up these joint ventures and sharing services are comparatively low. 

Graphic showing the drivers behind Resource Sharing.


Resource Sharing

This is a step beyond Shared Services and involves councils working more closely together in different areas.

The short document (it's a simple, easy read) "Resource sharing success stories in TASMANIA" outlines how four councils in north-west Tasmania shared resources to save money and provide better services without the need to amalgamate.

The last page provides an instructive list on lessons they learned and can be used by councils wishing to take up such an approach:

Resource sharing works best where there is:

  • A common, agreed rationale for resource sharing
  • A formal agreement which underpins the arrangement
  • An evaluation and monitoring framework to formally review and report back on outcomes
  • High levels of trust between councils to drive transparency and accountability and an investment in building strong relationships at senior, executive and councillor levels
  • Actual equity and allocation of shared resources across councils to ensure both function in the joint arrangement
  • Highly committed, shared executive and senior staff
  • Complementary IT and communications systems to support physical movement between locations and ensure efficiency of use
  • Incremental rather than transformational change over time which has helped build an organisational culture of resource sharing
  • Staff specifically recruited into shared roles based on an identified set of personal attributes as well as skills.  

It is interesting to compare this list with what is missing from the LGC's proposal.

  • No evaluation or monitoring framework.
  • Incremental rather than transformational change to build a culture of resource sharing
  • Many of the other points that are expected to happen by the force of amalgamation rather than joint agreement

In New Zealand, the Canterbury Mayoral Forum


The Forum provides a mechanism for local authorities in Canterbury to:

  • stand together and speak with ‘one strong voice’ for Canterbury and its communities
  • identify and prioritise issues of mutual concern and foster co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration to address them
  • advance regional economic and social development through leadership, facilitation and advocacy
  • work together, and with central government and other key sector leaders in Canterbury, to meet the needs and expectations of our communities at the lowest possible cost to ratepayers.

There are options other than amalgamation to reduce costs and provide better outcomes.

If the proposed amalgamation is rejected at the poll, then local councils need to work on furthering Shared Services and Resource Sharing.

Some links to associated material

Canterbury Mayoral Forum model pitched as an alternative to amalgamation

Mayoral forum strategy to boost Canterbury's economy

How Canterbury councils are taking ownership of different parts of a common economic development strategy

What a "stronger voice" really looks like
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