By Malcolm Alexander, ex CEO, LGNZ
During the past eight years with Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), I have been involved in any number of meetings and initiatives between central and local government, and invariably the word ‘partnership’ gets thrown around a lot.
It’s a word with lofty hopes and expectations of trust, shared visions, equal resourcing and mutually beneficial outcomes. Sometimes these partnerships come to fruition, but more often than not, they fail to reach the expectations set by this word.
Particularly where local and central government relations are concerned, the classic ‘servant and master’ dynamics can quickly come into play – and you can guess who plays which role.
However, if there’s one partnership that both local and central government can learn from, it’s the Road Efficiency Group (REG). Formed in 2012, the longevity of REG is a testament to its success. But it’s the way the partnership has been formed, how it works, and what it delivers, that has defined its success, and which causes me to hold it up as an exemplar.
As context, in my time with LGNZ I’ve been invited to any number of groups, but REG is the only one I’ve stayed with the whole way through. This is because it actually makes a difference on the ground. It’s not just feel-good words, but action delivering outcomes.
REG emerged from the Road Maintenance Task Force in 2012, as a collaborative initiative between the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Local Government New Zealand, and the Road Controlling Authorities (RCAs), being the 67 territorial authorities across the country.
The REG partnership’s objectives are multiple but clear and concise. REG exists to support the RCAs to both understand the changes set upon them by Waka Kotahi and Government Policy Statements and help them become better procurers and providers of regional roads and services. Essentially REG works to get bang for ratepayer and taxpayer buck.
Importantly, REG also helps elected members communicate that bang for buck. And if a region isn’t getting the bang, then support from REG helps to make it clear where the buck stops, and why that is. It delivers transparency and accountability for the ratepayers, elected members, and officials.
Some of the highlights of REG include the launch of the One Network Road Classification (ONRC), and the ONRC online reporting tool, allowing categorisation of all public roads from Cape Reinga to the Bluff, depending on factors such as daily traffic, heavy vehicle, tourism and public transport usage, and freight tonnages.
REG enables the sort of information gathering and provision, which is vital to good decision-making and good governance.
In another positive move from REG, the ONRC is moving to the One Network Framework to incorporate the four well-beings and support the sector’s shift away from the dominance of roads and vehicles. There’s a lot more to the partnership these days than just roads and maintenance.
I’m not going to say it was always an easy road for REG. In the beginning, we brought in an independent chair to get the governance balance right, and given the ambition of the partnership, it involved a lot of work. But throughout this, one aspect of the partnership, set at the start, has endured. That is the principle that REG is for the sector by the sector. Enabling this approach is something that Waka Kotahi and central government should be praised for.
The quandary that local government faces can often be summarised in the dichotomy of local government having the on the ground know-how, and central government having the resources and policymaking heft. REG has rightly been described as a one-of-a-kind initiative in that it has combined these to transform the transport sector.
The thing is, REG shouldn’t be a one-of-a-kind. The way REG has worked should be a model for more central and local government partnerships.
And pleasingly, REG continues to deliver. In June, REG has published the first Road Controlling Authority Reports, which provide metrics, ratings and scores on service performance and outcomes. These provide a snapshot in time of each local RCA’s entire transport network performance in a single dashboard. We’re talking details from the length of sealed road and cycleways to grading of co-investor assurance to the health and safety of the network as well as road and footpath condition and cost efficiency.
The new REG dashboards are just the latest successful action of the REG partnership. And that is what REG is about – action, not just words.
If there’s a desire to find a successful model and implement it across more local and central government partnerships, then REG is it.