Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Minister of Local Government
It is time for discussion and serious action on how to lift performance and serve diverse communities better and more efficiently.
Anyone connected to local government knows the vast scale of services the sector provides to support New Zealanders in their everyday lives. Local government has a real and direct impact in our businesses, homes, schools and communities.
I am honoured to be the new Minister of Local Government and I look forward to working with the sector to improve the lives of all New Zealanders. This is a role I am passionate about and have insight into, having served as an Associate Local Government Minister and on my local city council.
I am aware of the hard work and dedication of many thousands of dedicated people in councils across the country. I am also aware of the excellent support from groups like LGNZ and SOLGM. However, I am also aware that the effectiveness of local government can be improved.
This is an election year and councils will face a period of transition and adjustment. My challenge to councils is to continue to address the need for change even during these times.
Councils are facing critical issues around managing assets, resources and finances, including replacement of aging infrastructure.
Other councils face rapid population growth and rising housing costs and there is the increasing need to provide greater resilience to natural hazards brought about by climate change.
Hard choices need to be made about which services to provide into the future and which are becoming untenable.
The performance of local authorities also has a vital role in regional and economic growth. This includes the provision of infrastructure and the burden of regulation on families and businesses.
Addressing these challenges requires a major change in how councils approach service provision.
The Government is already helping support councils to tackle infrastructure and growth challenges through the 2015 New Zealand Infrastructure Plan, the Business Growth Agenda, reform of the Resource Management Act (RMA) and the Irrigation Acceleration Fund.
However, these initiatives rely heavily on local government to implement them and a concern I have is that local government structure currently lacks the scale and capability required to deliver on these challenges.
Working with inefficient or uncoordinated structures is difficult for both central and local government and business. It is exacerbated by inconsistent rules, regulations and plans within regions which is an issue highlighted in the findings of the Rules Reduction Taskforce.
I know there is a strong commitment in local government to address these issues and lift performance and the Government is committed to further supporting local councils to achieve this.
We are considering a new approach, which I will be leading as Minister. The focus will be on enabling and encouraging councils and communities to improve organisation of council functions and structures.
The Local Government Commission will be a proactive broker for change. Sir Wira Gardiner and his team will be working closely alongside councils and communities to enable them to adopt new structural options that suit their needs.
Legislative amendments will support this, encouraging and enabling councils to change by providing a broader range of incentives, options and processes.
Emphasis will be on how functions and services can be better delivered through initiatives such as greater use of multi-council controlled organisations, shared services and merged or transferred functions.
Engaging communities in change will be vital and councils need to be nimble around communication. The popularity of savvy start-ups like Uber or Airbnb shows how quickly the public embrace disruptive technology when they see an improved level of service delivery.
New Zealanders increasingly expect the public sector to keep up and constantly be thinking about how it is embracing these new technologies and models.
Meeting many of these challenges will require effective and meaningful engagement between central and local government. We are committed to working collaboratively with and enabling communities to decide on structures and tools that better deliver local core council services.
I am encouraged by the steps local government has taken so far but more needs to be done. It is time for discussion and serious action on how to lift performance and serve diverse communities better and more efficiently.
We need to deliver better value for money and appropriate structures and conditions to support regional growth and create stronger and more resilient communities. I look forward to working with the sector to achieve these ambitious goals.
This article was first published in NZ Local Government Magazine’s Perspectives 2016.