28 Jul 2012

Local authorities fight to retain traditional purposes

9:45 pm on 28 July 2012

The organisation representing 78 local authorities says there is no evidence to support removing aspects of councils' community roles as proposed in the Local Government Amendment Bill.

The bill, which is currently before Parliament, is aimed at controlling local-authority spending and reducing rate increases and debt by requiring councils and other local authorities to focus on "core services".

The Government wants to amend the purpose of local government as stated in the current Local Government Act.

It proposes to do this by replacing the words "promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future" with the words "meet the current and future needs of communities for good quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses".

A Local Government New Zealand submission to the select committee considering the legislation says there is no good reason for removing the "four well-beings" from the act.

Government justification questioned

The organisation's president, Lawrence Yule, says examples the Government has used to justify scrapping them do not demonstrate the failure of councils' purpose but rather the result of governance problems or activities mandated by communities.

Mr Yule, who is the mayor of Hastings, says councils are being fiscally prudent because of financial circumstances.

The mayor of Masterton, Garry Daniell, says the "four well-beings" are a fundamental part of what councils have been doing for communities for generations, and taking them away puts into question the importance of local government.

Mr Yule also says that while he supports a proposed measure to gauge councils' performances, it could also be used by the Government to intervene.

Mr Yule says Local Government New Zealand is concerned that ministers could use the measure - known as benchmarking - to say "There's a big problem here" when it might not be a genuine problem at all.