Infrastructure, water and housing will continue to pose challenges for the sector and will be among the top priorities for 2018. Dave Cull, president, Local Government New Zealand.
After a busy and productive 2017, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is well placed to maximise the opportunities this year will bring, and meet whatever challenges that may arise.
In late 2017 I had the privilege of attending the COP23 Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, where it became even more apparent that the work started by local government last year on climate change is critical.
These conferences demonstrate that when cities, regions, businesses, communities and all levels of government join forces, climate action is stronger and more effective. We have long advocated for such an essential joined-up approach to climate change, and we look forward to strengthening these partnerships in the coming years.
Last year LGNZ launched a climate change project comprising a number of pieces of work focused on both adaptation and mitigation. This is a key piece of work that will help equip councils and their communities with the tools and information they need to act on climate change.
I stress the word act. When even poor countries like Costa Rica and Fiji can mount a range of efforts to tackle the issue of climate change, New Zealand needs to urgently move into action.
Local government must work hand in hand with central government to address the issues of climate change. The question is how. In my view, it cannot just be on the terms that the government decides. To achieve the reductions New Zealand needs, local government must be ‘sharing the driving wheel’. This will be a key goal for us in 2018.
Infrastructure and funding
In the second half of 2017, LGNZ vice president Stuart Crosby and I, along with LGNZ’s management team, embarked on a nationwide tour of councils.
During these visits, which will continue in the early part of this year, the issue of funding growth and renewal infrastructure has emerged as among the highest priorities for councils dealing with the pressures associated with booming populations and visitor numbers.
Councils in fast growing areas face serious issues with funding the infrastructure needed to accommodate new residents, such as roads and essential drinking, waste- and stormwater infrastructure. Relying primarily on property rates and the current development contributions regime to fund incredibly expensive new infrastructure for new residents is not sustainable or fair, and many councils are reaching their debt limits.
The early messages from the new government indicate these concerns have been heard, and the government’s commitments to reviewing the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base are welcome.
We are looking forward to working with the government on finding alternative funding methods, and will continue to highlight the infrastructure issues faced not just by growth councils but also those councils dealing with a range of other complex factors too.
CouncilMARK local government excellence programme
Launched in 2016, the CouncilMARK excellence programme has proved to be a valuable contributor to the sector’s aims of showing and growing its performance.
In its inaugural year we saw 18 councils independently assessed and most of these had reports outlining their performance published for their communities to consider. This year the programme will continue with a range of councils already signed up for its second year. We will continue to promote CouncilMARK as an important assessment tool for councils.
Under the programme, councils are assessed over four key indicators, developed by LGNZ in conjunction with Cameron Partners. They are governance, leadership and strategy; transparency in financial decision-making; service delivery and asset management; and communications and community engagement.
Many councils are already using the reports to guide their work, whether addressing areas for improvement or planning how to retain a high standard.
As a sector there is much to do to raise awareness of the full breadth of work and the many roles local government plays. We also need to continue to grow our performance. CouncilMARK is designed to do this and I commend all the councils that have participated so far, and those that have committed to it.
Completed council reports along with further information can be found at councilmark.co.nz. I urge the community to go online and read these for themselves.
This article was first published in the Perspectives 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.