2016 highlights from a very busy year for local government.
Malcolm Alexander, Chief Executive, LGNZ
The local elections were a major feature of the year and mark the start of a new triennium. With that comes change to the makeup of our councils and elected leadership, including new membership for Local Government New Zealand’s (LGNZ’s) National Council.
It’s a time when LGNZ reviews its strategic policy priorities to ensure the right issues are prioritised so the challenges ahead can be met. This process has begun and will continue in the first part of this year, culminating in LGNZ’s 2017-19 Business Plan and refreshed Policy Strategy.
Looking back there are a number of key milestones to reflect on.
1 Governance and performance excellence
Last year was a landmark year for the sector with the launch of the Local Government Excellence Programme.
The Local Government Excellence Programme is a system designed to demonstrate and improve the value and services of councils by measuring indicators across leadership, finance, service delivery and community engagement. Participating councils are assessed by independent experts every three years, given an overall rating from AAA to C, and the results publicised. Councils will discuss results with communities and use the assessments to plan improvements.
Twenty one councils signed up as Foundation Councils to be assessed in the inaugural year, with the first four completed in late 2016.
The programme is overseen by an Independent Assessment Board chaired by Toby Stevenson, director of Sapere Research Group and an independent company director with 30 years’ experience in strategic risk management. He was joined on the board by Debbie Birch and Albert Brantley, both of whom have significant experience in public and private enterprise.
Further assessments will continue in the early part of 2017 and LGNZ will soon be calling for expressions of interest from other councils to join the programme in its second year.
EquiP, LGNZ’s Centre of Excellence, continues to assist councils with expertise, executive management professional development and elected member training.
2 A shared national approach to addressing regional development and growth across New Zealand
Strong economic performance in our regions benefits the whole country and leads to a stronger New Zealand. To provide local government with a guideline for best practice economic development LGNZ has progressed the Stronger Economic Development research programme. The programme collected data on local economic development to highlight best practices and current information on how councils are using their resources to sustain and generate economic activity.
A draft discussion paper outlining how, where and why economic development resources are used is planned for completion in early 2017.
3 Developing a sustainable funding model for local government in New Zealand – incentivising stronger economic growth
LGNZ’s 2015 Funding Review has stimulated considerable debate and since its launch LGNZ has responded with several streams of continuing policy work. As a result many policy matters around infrastructure are now being addressed, with or by, central government.
Early work and wins have included:
- Housing infrastructure. LGNZ has worked closely with partners to advocate for tools and resources to facilitate housing development where it is most needed. The government has so far responded with the $1 billion fund available to assist high-growth councils advance infrastructure projects.
- Special Economic Zones. LGNZ has been working with central government to research the cost, benefits and impacts to implement special zones, which would allow localised policy and regulatory tools such as Urban Development Authorities.
- Road pricing. Through ongoing advocacy the government has acknowledged a need for the use of road pricing to manage congestion and cover the balance of costs for long-term roading infrastructure.
- Tourism / visitor levy. The then Prime Minister John Key told a tourism industry summit the government would introduce a tourist tax. Possibilities ranged from departure or bed taxes to tourist levies, but “doing nothing” was not an option.
- Regional Mid-sized Tourist Facilities Fund. LGNZ has repeatedly called for support and the $12 million fund was developed to assist. The first tranche worth $3 million was allocated in November last year to help those communities that struggle to build tourism infrastructure. This is a start but much greater investment will be needed.
4 Leading effective infrastructure development and funding policies
LGNZ is laying the foundations for improved risk management for councils.
LGNZ has proposed a central risk agency to assist councils in understanding their risk profiles and to work to a common methodology and set of standards. Getting better at preparing means communities and the nation can recover from disasters more quickly, both economically and socially. We need to do this because New Zealand has a high natural hazard environment, exposed to earthquakes, tsunami, landslides, and volcanic activity. Climate change will cause more severe and more frequent river and urban flooding, storms and high winds, storm surges and coastal erosion in coming years.
An agency would establish guidelines and models by which local government understands and manages its risks and shares information. It would harmonise practices, improve skills in management and financing, provide quality assurance, and supply expert staff. An Establishment Board was formed to launch the proposal, and the business case has gone to central government for funding consideration, with a decision due this year.
5 Setting an agenda of regulatory reform and development of more effective policy setting in areas impacting local government
We need to reduce the regulatory and legislative burden on local government which imposes unnecessary and undue costs on local communities. To progress this we need a stronger relationship with central government policy setters to ensure that new initiatives are appropriate and able to be implemented, minimising costs to communities. LGNZ continues to work closely with both our partners in the government as well as support and opposition parties. We will continue to keep the lines of communications with all parties open.
6 Sector-led policy on important environmental issues for effective management of natural capital
New Zealand is facing a period of significant change, including adapting to climate change and managing scarce natural resources. After many years of ad hoc tweaking the resource management system struggles to meet current needs.
In 2016 LGNZ launched Planning our Future, an eight-point programme of action designed to address a range of important issues with the system with the aim of furthering discussion about what would best suit the country’s needs in the coming decades. The document has an emphasis on early decision-making and placing greater value on natural eco-systems.
7 Strengthening local democracy and the value of local government
LGNZ’s Vote 2016 campaign set out with the goal of raising voter turnout to 50 percent for the first time since the 1980s. While this target is likely to require several election cycles to be achieved, it was encouraging to see turnout rest at 42 percent, up from 2013 and effectively halting the long-term downward trend.
The campaign used a partnership approach with LGNZ, councils, stakeholders and media all playing a part, and has set the foundation for future work. In the coming triennium focus will remain on raising engagement, with greater online engagement, investment in civics education and consideration of online voting all to be investigated or promoted.
This article was first published in Local Government Perspectives 2017.