Conservative Euro MP Dan Hannan has been visiting New Zealand and singing the praises of that country in general and particularly of John Banks, the independent Mayor of Auckland (and candidate for Mayor of Greater Auckland, which will be the new authority under boundary changes).
So what does His Worship the Mayor – or "Banksie" as he prefers to be known – have to teach us?
Some of the issues he has dealt with will be familiar. The Mayor has a focus on value for money. He first move was to cut the number of Council committees from 14 to five. The increase in the rates is being kept below inflation. This is rather more impressive than it sounds as the same pot of revenue has to cover some long overdue capital projects so capital spending is sharply up. Incidentally, they have saved money by introducing e-billing and e-reminders for the rates bills. Other savings include $15 million renegotiating contracts.
There also seems to be a certain pragmatism – he is willing to spend money attracting events because he thinks they produce a worthwhile return. A zero tolerance approach to graffiti included "the graffiti being photographed and entered into a graffiti tracker database to help identify offenders."
There is decluttering in the streets with more shared spaces. Reducing the bureaucracy for film companies to get permits. Traffic congestion is eased by allowing cars with more than one passenger to use bus lanes. Planning applications have been made faster and easier with "pre lodgement meetings and on line building consent tracking." This saves time for both applicants and the staff. There was an interesting example of making health and safety requirements less onerous on swimming pools by recognising that if a pool has a lockable cover then there should not also be requirements for fencing alarms. This is an example of how technical advances should be causing health and safety burdens to diminish rather than constantly increase.
There are some more examples on the excellent blog by Banksie's colleague Cllr Aaron Bhatnagar. Banks has expressed criticism of his former Party colleague New Zealand Conservative Prime Minister John Key for not doing enough to get borrowing down. But at least Banks has been more restrained than the left wing Mayor of North Shore, Andrew Williams, who has taken to waking up Key with obnoxious text messages at 3.30am.