Exciting Times for Collective Action

JO MILLER, chief executive of Hutt City Council, imagines a world where collaboration is the norm.

Compassion, communication, clarity of purpose, collaboration, and a focus on citizens were at the heart of New Zealand’s rightly lauded response to COVID-19. We did well as a team of 5 million, with great leadership and central–local partnerships. Here in the Hutt Valley, councils, iwi, businesses, voluntary organisations, and communities collaborated to problem-solve and innovate for the common good.

Some of the issues that surfaced in COVID existed long before the virus. Lockdown laid bare the stark reality of overcrowded houses, poverty, and those with complex needs having to trail around from one part of the public service to another, telling their story multiple times and frequently falling through the cracks. Let’s be honest, when it comes to looking after people, we know there is a better way to do things.

In the middle of March, as COVID loomed large, the Department of Internal Affairs and the National Emergency Management Agency set up a Local Government COVID response unit with the Society of Local Government Managers and Local Government New Zealand. We designed guidance together, got messages into government and out to the nation, and had weekly conference calls where advice was sought and given. We put forward emergency legislation, jointly identified problems, and sourced solutions. It’s always a challenge for the whole of government to be joined up at that level, let alone locally, but we did a pretty good job!

Just imagine what we could achieve if we joined up like this every day – to strategise, plan, deliver, and account for outcomes, sharing data and designing solutions that could shift the dial on entrenched, systemic inequalities.

I’m delighted that our central–local government joined-up approach will continue in the response to Three Waters reform. There is an opportunity to adopt the same approach around public service – think housing, education and skills, access to employment, justice, and much more. In all the public service agencies I’ve ever worked for, the talk about removing silos has always figured large. But it’s not enough to join up as an organisation (whole of government) – we need to coalesce around place if we are to maximise our impact.

Lack of affordable housing is a key issue in Lower Hutt. Māori comprise 20 percent of Lower Hutt’s population yet are consistently 50 percent plus of our homeless families – we want to change that. In August, as Minister Mahuta launched Te Maihi o te Whare Māori – a national Māori and Iwi Housing Innovation Framework for Action (MAIHI) – we also launched a new partnership vehicle to give effect locally to MAIHI.

Our housing partnership between Hutt City Council, Kahungunu Whānau Services, Te Rūnanganui o Te Āti Awa, and Council-owned organisation Urban Plus Limited is the first of its kind in the country. It sets out a framework for building and delivering warm, safe, and affordable homes to those Lower Hutt households in housing need. A key aim is to provide pathways for these families to permanent home ownership so that residents can go from emergency housing to rent to ownership without moving house, putting down roots in communities so that families can thrive. We are now choosing sites for homes and setting out our joint ambitions for the next three years. Partnership with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Kāinga Ora, and the Ministry of Social Development will be pivotal to building more homes that meet the needs and aspirations of our communities. If collaborations and collective action like this become the way we do things, exciting times lie ahead.