Governance guru backs one Wairarapa council as reforms urged

4:08 pm on 24 December 2020

As central government policymakers brief ministers on a potential overhaul of council funding, the man who wrote the book on good governance recommends a different solution for Wairarapa's local authorities.

Former Wellington council chief Doug Matheson has backed calls for streamlining governance in Wairarapa local government.

Former Wellington council chief Doug Matheson has backed calls for streamlining governance in Wairarapa local government. Photo: WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE / MARCUS ANSELM

A briefing to incoming minister of local government Nanaia Mahuta published last week recommended wide-ranging changes.

"Roles and responsibilities of councils have and will continue to change, governance requirements need to be updated," said the report penned by Department of Internal Affairs staffers.

The report comes with councils facing a testing year in 2021, with reforms for Three Waters, resource management, and "shovel-ready" initiatives already set to dominate.

But former Wellington City Council chief and Wairarapa District Health Board helmsman Doug Matheson believed the thorny issue of amalgamation needed to be reconsidered.

Matheson, who retired to Lansdowne after a long career in private and public enterprises in New Zealand and Japan, thought streamlining Wairarapa authorities would be a first step for the area.

He was appointed as the council's chief in 1991, and ushered the capital's authority through teething problems following the 1989 reorganisation.

Wellington did not face changes on the scale of Wairarapa's boroughs and counties, but did face challenges over increasing complexities and demands.

And even though attempts to merge Wairarapa's three districts floundered in 2017, the former IBM senior manager recommended reconsidering the approach.

Matheson, whose books include The Complete Guide to Good Governance, said cutting governance in the area would improve services, and cut costs to ratepayers, and duplication of efforts.

"My vision was we can't afford three governance bodies, that's the elected councils. We do need the operational side in at least three places.

"It's a large governance for such a small population. And because of that, it's repeat, repeat, repeat. Copying the same thing.

"My feeling was if they had one council for Wairarapa, they would cross-pollinate and things will improve. Wellington proved it, it didn't need more than one."

In a statement, Mahuta said "some aspects of the local government framework have gone unchanged for some time and could be due for modernisation".

She said "elements" of the Local Government Act 2002, the Local Authorities (Members' Interests) Act 1968, and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act [LGOIMA] 1987 were ready for review.

She said it there was also a case for "taking another look at elements of Auckland Council's legislative settings".

"I am considering my immediate work programme priorities for this parliamentary term. The government is making good progress in a number of local governance areas that are facing significant challenges."

Local Government New Zealand [LGNZ] president Stuart Crosby agreed there was a need for reform, with major problems that needed to be worked on over the next term.

Crosby, the former mayor of Tauranga City Council, said funding issues needed to be addressed.

"The funding levers we have, have remained the same for the last 50 years but the services we are required to provide in local government have grown."

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