Latest CouncilMARK report digs into regional council operations and culture

8 December 2020

The CouncilMARK™ Independent Assessment Board (IAB) has released their latest report, on the performance of Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

CouncilMARK™’s Independent Assessment Board (IAB) has released their latest report, on the performance of Bay of Plenty Regional Council, finding an organisation with some of the strongest iwi co-governance arrangements of any council, and a cohesive culture among both councillors and staff that is driving solutions for the region’s challenges.

CouncilMARK™ is an independent assessment programme that assesses how councils are performing and is designed to support individual councils to improve the service and value they provide.  Councils receive an overall performance rating from the Independent Assessment Board, from C to AAA, as well as commentary on their performance.

In awarding the regional council a ‘BBB’ grade, the IAB has praised the regional council for their strong spirit of public service, the operation of their ‘Quayside’ investment company and diversification of investment, and their ambitious programme of environment improvement.

At the same time, the IAB has highlighted that a number of areas that can be improved, even where the council are currently finding success.

“Bay of Plenty Regional has three really big things going for it.  They’ve got an experienced and balanced team of elected members, they’ve got competent staff who are motivated to serve the public, and they’ve got some of the strongest partnerships with iwi that we’ve seen,” says CouncilMARK™ IAB Chair Toby Stevenson.

“The Quayside investment arm is doing a great job managing their assets and they’re investing regionally, for example in Ōpōtiki Wharf, and research, innovation and education facilities in Tauranga.” 

“The next step for the council is to increase their performance measurement and accountability to further show ratepayers what they are getting for their rates.  They should look at the desired risk and return profile of their investments including Quayside Holdings.  Yes they are doing well financially, but strong investment risk analysis is recommended to ensure that this continues.”

Relationships between the Regional Council and iwi are vital, as the Bay of Plenty region is home to 39 iwi and 260 hapū, with 26 per cent of the population identifying as Māori. 

Acknowledging this, Bay of Plenty Regional Council has brought a multi-level approach to iwi engagement.  At an elected member level the council has retained three members that are elected off the Maori roll.  At a local governance level, the council has co-governance arrangements with local iwi – Rotorua Lakes for example – and at a staff level a specific Maori engagement strategy, He Korowai Mātauranga, which provides a framework for implementing Mātauranga Maori into council business and staff capacity.

“Very few councils can match Bay of Plenty’s efforts in partnering with local iwi, and they should be an example for all other councils,” continued Mr Stevenson.

The Bay of Plenty is a large environmental catchment, and includes a coastal marine area of almost 10,000km2, eight major rivers, five large estuaries, two harbours and the Rotorua Lakes. 

The report notes that the sheer size and complexity of the area means that for the council to get the greatest benefit from their limited resource, more risk-based assessment is needed.

“We think there is a benefit in the council targeting their limited resource to specific risks and time periods that affect the water quality in the region, for example increasing compliance efforts during periods of high rainfall.  A risk based approach would help them predict when and where breaches will occur.”

“Of course these suggestions are changes in the margins, but when we’re talking about implementing long-term environmental change, every little bit of improved practice helps.  Overall the council is doing a good job and the community should be pleased with their CouncilMARK™ report result,” concluded Mr Stevenson.