Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Minister of Local Government, tells newly-elected members that a more coordinated framing of the local government / central government relationship is required. Councils need new ways to manage finances and improve efficiencies. And more needs to be done to meet current needs and prepare for future demands.
Congratulations to all of you as you take your places around the council tables of New Zealand’s local bodies. There are some new faces and some familiar ones. I thank you all for your commitment to serve your local communities. Some long-serving mayors and councillors have called time on their local government careers while others have won fresh mandates.
Your roles as local body politicians give you unique opportunities to improve the lives of New Zealanders. Effective local government forms a crucial foundation for a strong society through a successful economy. I want to help you achieve that.
Local government affects every New Zealander and directly impacts our many visitors. We are all proud of our country and the opportunities it offers. We want to ensure that, across the country, our communities are great places to live, work and play.
To achieve this requires a coordinated approach across regions. It also requires a more coordinated framing of the local government / central government relationship.
We are all aware that local authorities are facing challenges. Infrastructure networks need replacing. New infrastructure is required to support housing and business development, particularly in high growth areas. But the costs of infrastructure and local services are rising faster than council revenues. Councils need new ways to manage finances and improve efficiencies.
There are several projects across government that seek to address these challenges. My proposed changes to the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No.2) are part of the government’s response. They provide support for councils to work together to deliver high-quality services and better value for ratepayers. They will enable the formation of more effective re-organisations across regions.
Many councils have begun creating shared service models for roading, flood protection and building consent processes as well as other administrative functions. But more needs to be done to meet current needs and prepare for future demands.
My reforms enable the Local Government Commission to take a more proactive role working with councils and communities. The Commission will be able to investigate options for improved efficiencies and present these options for consideration by councils and the public. The Commission will be required to undertake public consultation before any re-organisation can occur.
In particular, the reforms will protect local communities and local democracy and strengthen councils’ performance. Decisions about important infrastructure such as water and transport will still be under council control through Council Controlled Organisations. Local councils will continue to manage their local services and be accountable to local communities.
Hearings are now completed on the Local Government Amendment Bill and I am working with LGNZ on obtaining better outcomes for New Zealanders. I thank each of you who made submissions to the select committee and I expect it to report back to the House by March 31, 2017.
The relationship between central and local government is critical. It has to be cohesive in order to provide effective services to our communities.
Local government is a vital part of New Zealand’s economic and social fabric. Collectively local authorities manage more than $96 billion in fixed assets and contribute more than $8 billion to New Zealand’s GDP each year. You also provide opportunities for local businesses and industry to create jobs.
Now more than ever it is vital that there is an open, collaborative relationship between central and local government. I want to build such a relationship with local government and would greatly value your perspective on how we achieve this.
Local government’s ratepayers are central government’s taxpayers. They want local and central government to work collaboratively, with their needs prioritised.
The decisions we as leaders make today affect future generations. There are some significant long-term trends emerging that present both challenges and opportunities for local and central government. These include rapidly-changing demographics and escalating costs.
I remain committed to working with all parts of local government to improve the services delivered to our ratepayers, residents and visitors. Together we can reach our goal of making New Zealand a great place to live, work and play.
Apart from the Local Government Act itself, there are many other pieces of legislation and policy which impact local government and which would benefit from a more collaborative approach. These cover issues such as transport, housing, climate change, disaster management, freedom camping, rates rebates and many others.
I look forward to engaging with you all to consider how a framework could clarify the respective roles of local and central government and provide mechanisms for managing issues.
I wish you all the best for your time in office. I look forward to meeting you and working with you to build a better New Zealand.
This article was first published in the November 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.