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Sweeping local govt reformation advised

What is being described as the most significant review of local government since the 1989 reforms and the 2002 Local Government Act has just been released.

Yesterday the Future for Local Government review panel made public its final report, which includes a raft of recommendations intended to deliver better outcomes for local communities.

The recommendations are informed by the economic, social and environmental challenges that are faced by New Zealand – challenges exacerbated by climate-related events and infrastructure deficits.

The independent panel was established in April 2021 to advise the government on building a resilient and sustainable local government system that is fit for purpose, flexible and incentivised to adapt for the future.

Its focus also included the need for public trust and confidence in local government, and for councils to partner effectively with mana whenua and central government, and actively embody and uphold The Treaty of Waitangi.

The panel, chaired by Jim Palmer, has concluded local communities are currently not well served by the relationship between local and central government, and that a reset of the relationship is required.

It has recommended local government and communities be empowered to build local solutions, the Local Government Act be reformed, and a new Crown entity established.

“Local government and communities must be empowered to build local solutions for national-level problems, with vital collaboration and funding from central government,” Palmer said.

“We recommend a new Crown department is established to manage the relationship between central and local government that clarifies roles, allocates resources and together deliver greater value for communities.

“We also recommend the Local Government Act is updated to embed intergenerational wellbeing as a core function of councils and to recognise local government as a Tiriti partner.”

Among the recommendations are increasing councillors’ pay in order to encourage candidates from a wider range of backgrounds, moving to four year terms, and lowering the voting age to 16 in order to increase voter turnout.

The panel also recommends consolidating some of the country’s 78 councils – or at least having them share functions such as roading.

Palmer said councils need to change how they operate and the panel has recommended a raft of reforms, including new approaches to leadership and management structures.

“Councils are doing innovative and impactful work in their communities but are hampered by a lack of funding and day-to-day pressures,” Palmer said.

Wairarapa MP and Minister for Local Government Kieran McAnulty said the independent report requested by the sector is an opportunity to work with local government and consider the issues raised, after the upcoming election.

“The recommendations are not government policy but will provide an opportunity to work with local government to agree on what changes need to be made to make it fit for purpose for 30 to 50 years,” McAnulty said.

“We need to know how our system of local government needs to evolve so it is better able to support programmes critical to communities, such as our emergency management system, our climate resilience profile, improvements to housing supply, and councils as enablers of community wellbeing.”

McAnulty said the government intends to consider the final report after the general election, with other issues on the agenda first.

“In the meantime, we are interested in hearing from councils their initial views on the final report. We are conscious of other sensitive areas of work that require focus and resources, such as helping New Zealanders through complex economic circumstances and recovery from recent weather events.”

McAnulty said at this stage, considering new policy work could direct resources away from supporting communities through tough times.

“Reforming local government is important, but ‘bread-and-butter’ issues and recovery from recent disasters take precedence in the short term,” he said.

“The general election provides local government with a window to get together, look over the recommendations [of the report] and decide what they like and what they don’t. Then, after the election, we can sit down and agree on how to progress things.” – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZOnAir

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