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Local politicians drop cooperative alliance with Northland Transportation Alliance – John Williamson

In those days these were local roads beaten to death by log trucks carrying the wave of wood going to Port Marsden. The local authorities protested that this was a national issue and NZTA took over the route. This was in exchange for a commitment to form an alliance to work together to get better value for money to create a better working Northland road network.

Against all odds and great political skepticism, the Northland Transportation Alliance was created. The local authority transport teams were brought together in a collaborative relationship with NZTA in a shared services business unit.

Its role has been to deliver road and transport services across the Northland, including transport planning, policy and strategy, asset and network management, capital project delivery, the regional land transport programme, public transport and road safety initiatives. The final message reflects a solid positive performance.

The thing is that transport and roads are a network. In the northern sense it starts at Cape Reinga and comes out at Wellsford. All other roads with a range of usage classifications and maintenance schedules are brought together in this network. The purpose of the network is to facilitate trade, attract investment, reduce transport costs, increase tourism, create employment, provide access to markets, stimulate growth and create linkages between sectors.

To be effective, this network is brought together by a shared sense of drive and purpose. The closure of Brynderwyns and Mangamukas is proof of how problematic the failure of part of the network can be.

In a municipal sense, this network is completely different from any other service they control. Wastewater, stormwater, drinking water, parks and reserves and any other services they control are not lumped together as transportation services.

The problem for municipal politicians is that if they rely on the whole network working in a transport alliance, then the individuals in that alliance are not under their thumbs in the same way as their other services. They perceive that they are losing control and do not fully understand the benefits of collaboration.

So these northern municipal politicians have created a very effective alliance, which was held up nationally as a model for cooperation on how important services can be delivered. Now these local authorities have to rebuild and duplicate the systems, shared expertise and culture of performance within their own bodies – and that, frankly, is a forlorn hope.

It is ironic that, in the same week that the same local politicians have dropped a collaborative alliance with a proven track record, they are publishing an ambitious to-do list of gunna-do priorities with a commitment to work together to achieve.

The list is the sort of thing that comes out of a two-day strategy session consisting of politicians and management, which is then published and pinned to various walls for approval. The contestants then crawl back into their bolt holes and get on with their real work.

There are some great and worthy ambitions on that list that require real collaborative effort, but there’s a lot of fluff, too. Call me cynical, but they just ruined the best example of what collaboration is all about.

Calvin Thomas and his NTA team can hold their heads high to show what collaboration really means.

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