One of the drums I bang repeatedly is the poor engagement between our small business communities and their respective local governments. Vaughan Winiata, VFormation and small business advocate comments.
It’s a sad reality and fact for which no single reason exists. There is one fact, however, that can be singled out as being a part of the problem.
If we are serious about bringing small business and local councils closer together, we need to put a stop to former MPs becoming mayors and councillors as their rite of passage.
Former MPs may disagree but, the truth of the matter is, they don’t possess the necessary skills to be great local government leaders. Understandable too, life as an MP in Wellington is many layers removed from the coalface of the small business sector.
The ‘layers of removal’ I refer to are the tens of thousands of taxpayer-funded bureaucrats between a small business and an MPs office. The only regular engagement an MP is likely to have with a small business owner is when they grab their morning coffee.
As I write this, the biggest bureaucracy in central government is the Department of Corrections with a headcount of about 9000 full-time staff. To put that into context, consider that we only have around 9500 prison inmates.
The current situation adds substance to the old adage, “the people who want to be politicians are the people we don’t want to be politicians”.
The bureaucracy most relevant to the small business sector is The Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment (MBIE) which employs about 4000 staff.
With that sort of scale in mind, central and local government are not only totally different beasts, they are on different planets. That is why it should be a surprise to nobody that former MP’s are more often than not, ineffective when they decide to covet the mayoral chains and key to your city.
So, why do former MPs decide to become mayors?
An obvious reason former MPs line up a plum mayoral role after a stint in Wellington is simple – it’s the next paid gig. There is nothing like a stint in Wellington to lead a former MP to believe that because they understand how the central government machine works, they also understand how the local government machine works. That is a delusional belief and there is ample proof of that across New Zealand’s 11 regional councils.
Life as an MP goes a bit like this; you campaign on getting elected and once down in Wellington you figure out how to stay there. That’s pretty much it.
No commercial acumen is necessary to achieve that and I do not intend to be demeaning when I write that. To survive in the day-to-day toxic and tribal environment of Wellington, and even within one’s own political party, requires skills and audacity, but not the serious skills required to be an effective mayor or councillor.
To be an effective mayor or councillor requires both authenticity and the ability to work across the diverse groups that comprise a wider community. Successful mayors communicate a vision that engages constituents smoothing the pathway for stuff to get done. Now, is that that how you would describe your current mayor?
A Council hijacked by former MPs is more likely to lack the fundamental foresight, insight and oversight to deliver measurable outcomes let alone any return on ratepayers’ investment. The current situation adds substance to the old adage, “the people who want to be politicians are the people we don’t want to be politicians”.
The added irony to all of this is that, across the country residing within our small business communities, are the very people with the skills to be effective mayors and councillors.
That leads us to one way we can end the repeating occurrence of recycled, reinvented and repurposed former MPs popping up as mayors.
That is the encouragement of our small business owners and operators to be more proactive in deciding who should be our mayors and councillors after next year’s local body elections are done and dusted.