Environmental / Resource Management

Latest Catchcry is “Better Local Services”

Minister of Local Government Sam Lotu-Iiga has just announced the next round in the unflagging campaign to improve the performance of Local Government.

Although short on detail as of yet, the Better Local Services package is intended to enable and equip local government to:

  • remain responsive to local preferences;
  • increase the coordination and cost effectiveness of local services and infrastructure;
  • increase support for regional growth and prosperity.

We can expect to see a legislation package introduced to Parliament in June, with the aim of passing legislation by the end of the year so that newly elected Councils can operate under the new provisions early in their 2016 to 2019 term.  The package is intended to address what the Government sees as significant long term challenges, including:

  • demographic changes;
  • economic shifts;
  • environmental pressures;
  • technological innovations.

Reflecting the failure of recent large-scale amalgamation proposals, the legislative changes will focus on efficiency and effectiveness of services rather than governance and representation.  While flexible options for joint governance and the management of services are to be made available, there will also be a bias towards the management of services through joint water or transport Council-controlled organisations (CCOs), with regulatory powers to operate network infrastructure.  There will be provision for shareholding Councils' interests in jointly owned CCOs to be overseen by joint committees with some specified powers, such as making recommendations on directors appointments, to shareholding local authorities. 

The ability to transfer functions between Councils will be improved, with transfers available either through a reorganisation proposal, or pursuant to widened powers in section 17 of the Local Government Act 2002.  It is proposed that the reorganisation process itself be made more flexible, with provisions for Councils to take responsibility for developing, refining and consulting on proposals, as well as improving the current Local Government Commission led reorganisation process.  The Local Government Commission would be given enhanced powers, but there will be stronger oversight of its operations, with a requirement for detailed documentation such as an annual plan, annual report, and consultation on its priorities with the Minister of Local Government.

A significant change is proposed in relation to polls on reorganisation proposals.  At present a petition from 10% of electors in the affected area can trigger a poll, but it is proposed to remove the petition requirement altogether and make a poll mandatory for all Local Government Commission-led amalgamations.  A poll would also be mandatory for major transfers of water, transport, and/or Resource Management Act functions from one local authority to another as part of a reorganisation, except where all affected local authorities agree. 

These are proposals only, which have not yet been agreed by Cabinet for inclusion in a Bill.  There may yet be significant changes before we see draft legislation, and as always the devil will be in the detail.  The suggestion that major services such as water and transport should be put at arms length under the control of jointly managed CCOs raises some questions about the nature of local democracy.  It will be interesting to see whether this is an initiative that finds community acceptance.

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