27 July, 2013

Election time again

I like working with public organisations where I can bring my governance skills to bear on the important matters.  What are those skills?  Well, I think the key to being good at governance is being able to take a helicopter view of the issues and to ask the right questions to draw out how well the organisation is meeting its obligations, how well it is adhering to its strategic goals and, very importantly, how well it is reviewing its own performance.

This year I am submitting my nomination to be elected to the Waitemata District Health Board.  You may well ask why anyone would want to be elected to a district health board.  Most of us when casting our votes peer at the list and maybe pick out someone whose name is familiar.  While we are doing this we wonder what it is that those who are elected think they can do that might have an impact on the delivery of health services.  We might also wonder how membership of such a board could be in the least bit interesting.

I think that these questions are an indicator of why I am a good candidate and why I would be a good representative.

Firstly, I bring no personal agenda to the boardroom table, I have an interest in governance and seeing that governance is undertaken in an ethical framework and is focussed on the organisation's strategic goals and measured against the targets set by the organisation.  This is the essence of good governance.  This means that my influence on the delivery of health services is based on working with the rest of the board to continue to review the performance of the organisation alongside those goals.  If the goals are set appropriately to lift the performance of health delivery services then good governance ensures that this focus is maintained.

As to how such a board might be the least bit interesting, I guess that this illustrates how I see good governance as being important to the health (excuse the pun) of the organisation.

I have spent the last three decades engaged in governance.  Much of this has been with school boards of trustees, not only being a member of several boards over those years, but also being currently engaged in delivering professional development to boards as a consultant specialising in governance.

I have spent many years as a member of the governance boards that have guided the development of the Museum of Transport & Technology (Motat) since 1963.  Today, following six years as a board member I am now a member of the board's property development committee.

Closer to public organisations I spent three years as a member of the Audit & Finance Committee of the previous Rodney District Council.  This was a subcommittee of Council that had the responsibility to ensure that the organisation was performing in accordance with its financial obligations.

Even more relevant to the Waitemata District Health Board, I have since 2008 been the board chair of the North Shore Hospital Foundation.  The Foundation has been supportive of the North Shore Hospital for over ten years working with philanthropic supporters to deliver services and facilities to staff and to patients and their families over and above what is able to be achieved by the district health board from its budget.

The skills that have been developed from these engagements over many years and a very clear focus on understanding  governance and working for the good of the organisation is a key reason for voting for me to be one of your representatives on the Waitemata District Health Board.

18 January, 2013

Tramping this summer

Well tramping might be an overstatement.  This summer (2013), I set out to walk a number of NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) tracks and I have been able to spend some great times walking on headland, shore and bush tracks.

We spent a week over new year up north at Rangiputa on the Karikari Peninsula (Doubtless Bay).  I walked many of the local tracks - nearly all coastal walks with stunning views over one of the most beautiful areas of Aotearoa New Zealand.

We then spent a week at Whangamata and I took the opportunity to tramp through two tracks in the Kaimai/Mamaku range.  One of these was to test my limits - see next blog.

One of the best tracks I covered in the north was further east at Mahinepua Bay.  The track begins at the beach where there is a fascinating contrast of cultures.  Just as you reach the beachfront, on the right is a beautiful little well kept cemetery, only partially filled and occupying a prime position.

From the headstone inscriptions it would appear to be an important Maori burial site.  Right next door, literally over the fence is a modest sized camping ground. Pitching your tent within a few metres of a row of graves must be thought provoking.

By total contrast, across the road and facing the beach is an outstanding modern house, very low with every room along the front a complete wall of glass facing the sea.  I have no idea how the occupants manage with all their rooms being absolutely transparent.

The Mahinepua Peninsula Track heads uphill from the end of the beach and travels the length of the peninsula, mainly along the ridge top with spectacular scenery in every direction.  Looking back towards the bay it is a picturesque setting while from the trig point there are views of the Cavalli Islands and Cape Brett peninsula with the Karikari peninsula in the distance.

Several groups of steps (nearly 290 steps in all) enable you to keep to the track and protect Maori pa sites.  It was about an hour to the trig point, however there is no cover as the peninsula is largely low bracken and manuka.  On the way back I stopped at a delightful bay for a swim and for lunch.

On our first day we had climbed to the top of Puheke Hill which has great views of the whole of the Karikari Beach, Matai Bay and Waikato Bay.  It was to Waikato Bay I next went to explore the Fig Tree track, a three hour return walk to the trig point.  Sadly having trekked for an hour right around the bay I could not find the starting point from the track from the beach.  Most of the land is private land along the beach so I was reluctant to explore too far.
However it was another beautiful walk around a stunning bay from the Matai Bay campsite.  I have a note to advise DOC that their track is difficult to identify.

The next day I thought I would try the Matai Bay headland track which leaves the campsite along the fenceline of a large tract of Maori land which occupies the entire northern end of the peninsula.  I must say that it felt somewhat inhospitable - not sure why although the terse no trespassing notices probably contributed to the feeling.

I reached a fork in the track with no particular directions to indicate the right way.  The one I chose appeared to head towards the headland but after twenty minutes or so the track became very difficult to negotiate and even to identify.  Not wishing to lose the track and spend time thrashing through the bracken and undergrowth I abandoned the walk and headed back - very disappointing.

The last walk was quite different, a very pleasant and easy walk along the Kaitaia Walkway.  Just an hour and a half through the bush to a lookout from which it is possible to see the Ninety Mile Beach.

We met two English women in NZ for several weeks, also going from track to track.  It was not their first time in the country for this sort of holiday.

A great five days!

21 April, 2011

National Standards - can we just get on with it!

I do think it is a pity when intelligent people sit down to measure droplets of rain in order to establish the optimum size so they can distinguish between heavy rain and mere showers – wet is wet.

I don’t have a problem with anyone debating National Standards. However there are some simple facts of life that are more important than criticising their introduction.

1. The concept of a standard that is fixed has a lot of appeal – we could spend hours discussing the method of implementation. If you ask most parents they want to know how well their child is doing compared with . . .

2. The issue therefore is what do we compare student achievement with in order to know how they are doing. Up until now we have generally been comparing against “the national norm”. This is the normalized achievement level (effectively an average) of all the students across the country. It’s not a precise number, it falls within a band. Children have always been described as above, at or below the national norm. Clearly half of them are at or above while half of them are at or below – that’s the nature of averages.

3. Is this adequate? Well it’s OK, it has been OK for many years. However is the national norm good enough? In the world we now live in where the majority of the unskilled (and many of the skilled) jobs are going off shore, should we not be looking to push achievement a little higher? There cannot be too many parents who would say no.

4. Rightly or wrongly the inventors of the National Standards took as a goal the endpoint of NCEA Level 2 and then worked back from there to establish a level of achievement which, if students were able to maintain that level throughout their primary years they would have a good chance of getting Level 2 in Year 12. Students at the national norm throughout their school career have less chance of doing this.

5. Will we get every student up to the National Standards? No, of course not – but then we could not get some up to the national norms either. Did that mean we stopped trying? Of course not. So why would we stop trying now and just settle for the national norm?

6. What do parents want to know? They want to know how their child is doing against some measure. We need therefore to describe the child as being at, above or below something. We have traditionally used the national norm. Half the children were always going to above this so what did it tell their parents? It could have told them that the child was OK and that they need do nothing more. This may have resulted in them being of average achievement but falling short at NCEA and then the parents asking what had happened. For the half that fell below the norm at least we were able to tell parents that their child needed more work or help. Has that changed – I hope not.

7. What is even more important, regardless of the level of achievement is the question “how is my child progressing?” The real question is whether they are making progress. Even for students who are below the standard (or even below the norm) we need to know if they are at least progressing – or falling further behind.

So what are the criticisms of National Standards
•  " Some are set too high." Well so are many goals in life. The high jump on the school athletics day is too high for some. Should we give up then and make it at a level that half the kids can jump it? The higher performing children will get bored and go on to something else when they might have been able to become great athletes.
•  " We have to tell parents that their children have failed to get over the bar." Parents expect to know how their child is doing (use whatever language that suits you) and then they want to know how to help get them higher. It’s pretty obvious if the parent is at the athletics day. They are no doubt going to encourage their child to do better, not become upset that they failed.

What about the question of language used to describe the child’s level of achievement. Much has been written about the use of the term “failure”. The critics have made this up.

NAG 2A says that the school is required to “report to students and their parents on the student’s progress and achievement in relation to National Standards” – no mention of the words to be used.

The facilitator notes for the Ministry’s board training for the board’s role in National Standards includes the comment “. . . there is no requirement for schools to use ‘at, above, below, well below” in their reports – again no mention of failure. Perhaps those that advocate the use of the word failure are bereft of any skill with the English language. They are certainly bereft of a commitment to inform parents about their child’s performance and how this can be addressed.

As to what we do now? Well my personal view is to ignore NZEI and their exhortations to join some sort of revolution – no good will come of it, there will only be tears. Maybe under pressure the Government may change aspects of the National Standards to try to address the criticism. However that will happen outside our small corner of the world.

I would prefer to see our school (every school) spend their precious time on focusing on student achievement. I am sure we can find a way of helping parents to understand how their child is doing, and more importantly how their child can do better – whether they are above or below a standard.

28 August, 2010

The "holiday highway" debate

There does seem to be overall support for the so called holiday highway to the North - the road which will run from the Johnston's Hill tunnels bypassing Warkworth and Wellsford and ending at Te Hana, just on the edge of Rodney.

There are the opponents of course, those citing the importance of public transport and those who are concerned at yet further destruction of the habitat - perfectly reasonable arguments that need to be considered.

However the growth of the population overall, especially in Auckland does make the north a key holiday destination. In addition to that today's very large trucks are a nightmare for all of us and the statistics on the piece of SH1 to be bypassed clearly favour a new alternative. On a trip back from Warkworth recently, late on a rainy night, the relief at entering the motorway through the tunnels was immense as the safety of travelling on such a wonderful road was clearly felt.

What of the towns bypassed. Well Puhoi has already made its feelings felt after NZTA they put up a plan to see how it would fly. I think they now know that leaving Puhoi out was a lead bellied idea and they would be fools not to heed the local reaction.

Warkworth seems unfazed. They have had such a nightmare with the current upgrade of the part of SH1 which (fortunately) already bypasses the town centre that anything to take the traffic further away will be welcomed. Anyway, they will have good access to the motorway so that the Mahurangi playground will be easily accessible and the tourist opportunities will be even greater with Auckland so close.

Wellsford is the town that will greet the motorway with relief and perhaps some despair. The town will simply be bypassed. The huge trucks and constant stream of cars through its narrow main street will be gone - the relief. However those that did stop shopped at the cafes and the petrol station. Will this be a serious loss? Who knows?

However as one of the candidates for the Rodney Local Board explained to me the other day, Wellsford has the time to work this out. They have time to do the surveys, do the assessments and develop a strategic plan for the town. They can start with the simple question - "What will Wellsford be like in five years" and work from there.

Of greater importance to Wellsford is undoubtedly employment. The loss of Izard's manufacturing plant meant 300 people were put out of work. The surrounding area is good farming country but farming is not a greeat employer these days. What the Rodney Local Board needs to do is to work hard on planning for emplyment. They need to be convincing the new Auckland Council and the Government that the right investment in Wellsford will be good for all of us.

The workers of Wellsford can turn their hand to any decent manufacturing operation. With the right incentives and a motorway capable of delivering goods to Auckland within an hour or so will mean a great future for Wellsford.

There would seem to be many good reasons to get this road built.

24 July, 2010

Toeing the "party line" in local politics

"Citizens & Ratepayers and the Labour coalition parties say they will have candidates standing for all positions in the Super City. How disappointing"

So says Hugh Chapman of Kohimarama in the Herald Readers' Forum on 24th July.

He goes on to say "they just do not get the idea behind the Super City. Local boards are to enlist their residents' ideas and suggestions. If they go back to "party" people and they disagree with the backroom policy to which they have signed on, the idea will be ignored."

"Every person on the local board should be a listener. There should be no party affiliated people even standing, let alone voted for on local boards."

Thanks for that Hugh - we certainly don't need "parties" on local boards that have some sort of whip to ensure all the members vote the same way.

We need clear thinking independent people. People of a similar perspective may well band together to aid their election prospects - but they need to be independent thinkers after that.

18 July, 2010

What does representation on the new Auckland Council mean to us?

I guess we all have the general picture by now. The new local authority structure consists of a single overall mayor (who we all get to elect) and then 20 councillors who will sit in Auckland and govern the city on our behalf. In Rodney we get to elect just one of these councillors.
More locally however we get a "local board" which we elect in separate subdivisions, much along the lines of the old Rodney wards.

So what do these people do on our behalf?
Let's make sure we understand the role of the new ward councillor. He or she is elected by us, however they must act in the interests of the whole city - not just their own ward. While we will be able to ensure they understand the needs of our rural community, the ward councillor is bound to look at the wider ramifications for Auckland and vote accordingly. This may not always be to our total benefit.

Have we lost our local representation?
Well no, in fact we have probably got better opportunities for pursuing our cause than we had before. Under the old scheme our elected councillors were not only there to assist us to get what we wanted, they were also there to charge us for it - they set the rates and all the other regulatory rules and conditions that we sometimes have trouble with.
Now, the new Auckland Council will have all these regulatory responsibilities - our local board will be able to advocate strongly for us without having to defend themselves over rates and regulations.

Our new local board, with members working for you in your area will be taking your issues to the meeting room and determining the strategy for lobbying the Auckland Council. What we need are clear strategic thinkers who can take issues and rationally progress them through the corridors of power.

We need to elect effective lobbyists to our local board.

14 August, 2009

Rodney and the new Auckland Governance

The unitary authority idea is a do or die approach and I believe the latter would be the case. With only 90,000 people and a huge geographic area we simply would not have the resources to provide ourselves with the infrastructure we require (regardless of how much we manage to recover in development contributions), let alone the costs of running the activities currently handled by the ARC.

What has bothered me is that by going for a unitary authority and having the Government simply disagree, we will have left a legacy of disgruntled people who will never appreciate any benefits that do arise from the new arrangments.

My personal preference has always been to work up a submission which secures the green belt (however we define that) and ensures that the city development leap frogs across into Waimauku/Helensville in the west and Silverdale/Orewa/Hibiscus in the east. We will get all the infrastructure benefits and be able to work through our local affairs through our local board.

We will be able to lose the high costs of the overhead infrastructure we have with RDC – we must have a very high cost per ratepayer of our Council administration compared with others, not because they are inefficient or doing a poor job, but simply because with only 90,000 people we lose on the economies of scale.

Rodney is struggling to provide infrastructure across such a diverse and geographically large area that on our own, with Auckland continuing to bark at our borders we run the risk of failure.