Six months ago, a new Central / Local Government Partnerships Group was created in the Department of Internal Affairs to respond to changing needs and expectations about the Department’s role with local government.
Chief executive of the department and secretary for Local Government, Colin MacDonald had observed a gap between New Zealand’s two levels of government. Central and local government have similar objectives to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders and Colin established the new group to drive closer alignment to achieve better outcomes for citizens, communities and regions.
The new function is led by Helen Wyn, a deputy chief executive with sole focus on central / local government issues. Helen is supported by six senior partnerships directors, who work across central government and between central and local government to bring focus and momentum on the key issues for both levels of government.
So what has the Central / Local Government Partnerships Group been up to since its establishment six months ago?
One of its early goals was to visit all 78 councils in the first year of its operation. While visits are still underway, so far they have highlighted the need for the Central / Local Government Partnerships Group to broker access to central government agencies on behalf of local government on specific issues.
Helen says the visits have been welcomed and are proving to be an important opportunity to hear directly from local government leaders on the critical issues facing their communities.
“The direct contact with councils has provided insights and knowledge that help us provide useful advice and support to the Minister of Local Government and to local government and central government colleagues.”
The Central / Local Government Partnerships Group has been hearing from councils about how they are grappling with key issues such as:
- Pressures on funding services and infrastructure;
- Managing growth pressures for some (for example, housing and transport) and low population growth for others;
- Dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters and climate change mitigation; and
- Addressing drinking water quality and managing natural resources.
The Central / Local Government Partnerships Group also works closely with other central government agencies, sometimes to help them partner and engage with local government, or to inject a local government perspective. Many government agencies need to work with local government and engaging with 78 separate authorities can be a major challenge for them. The group can help connect government agencies to local authorities through its brokerage role.
Working in partnership with local government enables the expertise of both levels of government to be applied to issues such as drinking water quality, and some of the issues facing high-growth councils.
The Central / Local Government Partnerships Group is working with a wide range of local government agencies, including peak bodies such as LGNZ and SOLGM. It is also seeking to codify this way of working within central government.
The Central / Local Government Partnerships Group’s success is heavily dependent on nurturing strong and trusting relationships with local government and across central government.
The group says partnerships are the basis for a new way of working, where the strengths of both levels of government are drawn on and bespoke solutions developed. This partnership approach will help tackle some of the most complex and important issues that face New Zealanders.
- For further information or enquiries contact: info@DIA.govt.nz
This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.