Guest Editorial by Hon Jacqui Dean, Member of Parliament for Waitaki and National spokesperson for local government.
The divvying up of responsibilities between central and local government has long been debated.
What cannot be disputed, however, is that a healthy working relationship between the two is vital to the country’s success.
Success comes when local innovation and variation can take hold and where national policy can be developed and implemented successfully in a way that benefits all New Zealanders.
Meaningful engagement is an integral part of that relationship. So too is the ability for both sides to be frank and forthright in discussing policy matters that impact local communities and the ability of councils to carry out its core roles.
The relationship between central and local government is at a crossroads in this country. This is due to the Government showing a tendency to push forward a policy agenda that is challenging for councils to administer and enact.
There are several proposals in the pipeline that will place a huge burden on council resources. The Local Government Minister has faced repeated questions in the House on the cost pressure to councils associated with new freshwater rules as they apply to local government, an overhaul of the three waters system and the implementation of new well-being targets.
The requirement for every decision or action to be examined through a ‘well-being’ lens will not only impose huge costs on councils, but will shroud them in red tape. This comes at a time when the sector is calling for simpler and timelier processes.
On last count, the Minister has had 12 opportunities in recent months to respond to this writer’s questions on additional cost pressures being placed onto councils, but has failed to offer specific dollar amounts.
This raises alarm bells because either the proposals were never properly costed in the first place or she doesn’t want to directly address my questions.
This lack of transparency and accountability undermines the relationship. It suggests that the Minister likes to give the orders, leaving councils to fall into line, come what may.
Parliament should provide the framework in which local authorities operate and therefore has an obligation to set them up for success.
Councils can’t be successful when they are over-burdened and constrained by government rules.
This brings ratepayers into the mix. A costly headache for councils ultimately means a costly headache for Kiwis, who are never going to be happy about a hike in their rates bill. Of course it will be local councillors and council staff who bear the brunt of their frustration.
Since becoming National’s spokesperson for Local Government, I’ve been very clear about the importance of having a good, positive working relationship with the sector and relish any opportunity to engage with staff, executives and elected members.
The importance of the central-local government relationship cannot be overstated – it’s fundamental to the success of local communities and should not be compromised.