Councils say no to Government reforms

:  The Local Government New Zealand delegation and the Mayors confront the Local Government and Environment Select Commtitee
 

A much vaunted Government proposal to make local Government more efficient is meeting a wall of opposition from Councils around the country.

Councillors are calling the proposal undemocratic and say that the Government has charged ahead trying to impose solutions on local Government without consulting them.

Earlier his year Local Government Minister Sam Lotu Iiga told Parliament that The Better Local Services reform package would give the Local Government Commission enhanced powers to work with councils to create shared council-controlled organisations, or CCOs.

They would provide scale and expertise across the local government sector and drive better outcomes for ratepayers, he said.

In a submission on the Bill the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, which supports the proposals,  cited as an example of the need for change a 2015 report into Waikato shared water services which found customers across the Hamilton City, Waipa and Waikato district councils would save up to $468 million or 8.6 per cent of councils’ revenue if services were delivered via a combined CCO.

“Despite these real and significant savings, the three council areas have yet to commit to the CCO and other councils within the Waikato region, who could participate, continue to choose not to,” said the submission.

Federated Farmers also supports the proposal, and its submission said efficient and effective local government was of vital importance to farming, and a key focus for its organisation and members. 

“Rates are among the largest working expenses for an average farm, with it not at all unusual for farmers’ annual rates bills to exceed $10,000 or even $20,000,” the Feds’ submission said.

The submission said most rural rates had doubled over the past ten years.

But even the staunch Government go-to person, Dame Margaret Bazley, chair of Environment Canterbury is opposed to the way the Bill has gone about its business.

She told Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Committee yesterday that she was very much opposed to any top-down imposition of the creation of Council Controlled Organisations.

“Considering the successful and effective collaboration and shared services arrangements currently  taking place in Canterbury and throughout New Zealand, we question the need for this legislation as an enabler of local governments working together," she said. 

“Rather, it appears to add unnecessary complexity to existing legislative and non-statutory arrangements which may not appropriately provide for the needs and characteristics of localities and communities.

“The Bill does not appear to be based on any recognition of existing successful and effective collaborations and infers that there are either few, or ineffective, joint arrangements currently operating between local authorities. 

“In our view, this assumption is incorrect.

“The Bill is complex and appears to disguise an intention to give central government more control over local arrangements. “

Stephen Woodhead, chairman of the Otago Regional Council, said that though he wasn't against the changes but that change needed to be driven go from the ground up.

He worried that stripping functions away from small councils such as those which existed in his region  --- he called it “asset stripping” --- would leave the Councils with insufficient resources to carry out their remaining functions.

Local Government New Zealand chair, Lawrence Yule, who was accompanied by a large retinue of Mayor had some harsh criticisms to make of the Bill.

“Local government is not simply a provider of local services

“It is an intrinsic part of a strong and healthy democracy.

“We must be careful and watchful that its democratic role, including its role to encourage participation of citizens, is not lost without a clear public debate.

“That we have to state this shows a deep misunderstanding of the role of local government in the minds of the Government and its advisers.”

There is a long list of local authorities submitting on this Bill --- and the submissions are all similar; criticising the Government for trying to impose amalgamations of Council service bodies on local communities.

But in favour of the Bill are major economic bodies like the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, and as the Bill has been developed by the Government, Finance Minister Bill English has been supportive of it.

The Local Government and Environment Committee is already grappling with the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill and has called for an extension of time on that; this looks like it will also be delayed in the Committee.

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