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Local government as a reform target

  • October 6th, 2014

It seems significant that Hon Paula Bennett remains Minister of Local Government.  Paula Bennett handled controversial welfare changes deftly. This suggests that the government places high importance on improvements  in local government.

Curiously, Kiwiblog seems not to have noticed Paula Bennett’s Local Government role:

“I thought Paula Bannett’s talents are a bit under-utilised. She has given up welfare, which was a huge portfolio, to take on state services, social housing and a couple of associates. But she could do very well in state services if she pushes the investment approach pioneered at MSD to the wider public service”.

When Paula Bennett first got Local Government she was widely seen as  interim,  a safe pair of hands until the election. She will now be working closely with Hon Bill English.  That, together with her Cabinet rank, leaving that portfolio with her, and appointing a respected Associate Minister  (Louise Upston), suggests that government is set on real  change in the sector.

There are opportunities for serious improvements. Many of them would be secured by legislative incentive corrections at the micro level. For example, much of the really dumb expenditure by Councils is not dumb for them, only for New Zealand.  Councils have been put under badly designed and badly drafted liability incentives.  They could be relieved from exposures for risks for which they are not the least cost mitigators, and from routine judicial second-guessing on matters that should remain political. They should be relieved of silly lawyer conflict of interest processes  that reflect lawyer hostility to democracy more than any intelligent concern for integrity.

And on the other side, council officers need more protection of the kind offered by SSC codes. Councils (and councillors personally) should come under  efficiency and cost disciplines with at least as much incentive for integrity and competence as govern company directors. Small but signficant changes could make it much more attractive for competent people to serve on councils.

It should be an interesting time for local government. Tony Ryall showed in Health how to transform a nightmare portfolio. Instead of more splashy ‘structural” reforms and managerialism, he restored a culture of respect for the people doing the work. He created a brains trust with executive talent, and made sure that his management enhanced buy-in to what works.

Let’s hope National’s best team for this term make sure that the changes respect the local in local democracy, and do not just add superstructure, with high salaried managers, which is what bedevilled Health ‘reforms’ for many years.


  • David Thornton
  • October 7th, 2014
  • 12:37 pm

The nationwide campaign to replace the present system of council rates.
Founder – David Thornton [09] 489 4714 cell 0274 831 825

7th October 2014
[Statement from David Thornton}
Local Government job could be Paula Bennett’s biggest challenge.
It is a long time since a Minister of Local Government was as high as number 5 in the Cabinet, together with the appointment of an Associate Minister outside Cabinet.
Paula Bennett and Louise Upston have a heavy workload ahead
There are huge pressures building in Local Government generally as ratepayers and businesses begin to react strongly to many issues which local councils appear less able to resolve, especially in the areas of financial management, planning controls and effective representative governance.
Funding for local councils has been a challenge for many years and. despite several inquiries and reviews, nothing has been produced which is radical enough to reform the present unfair system.
The re-organisation of Auckland’s local government system was quite a radical move, but experience is now showing that the in-built democracy deficit of fewer elected representatives and huge increases in bureaucrat numbers is raising tensions in many of the local communities which form the SuperCity.
Auckland issues involving debt and financial management, urban planning and the controversial Central Rail tunnel, are likely to draw in more central Government involvement, and to attract loud calls for amending legislation to remedy the democracy deficit.
Similar SuperCity proposals are under consideration around the country, and, with a biased Local Government Commission, such proposals could well be forced on unwilling participants. New amalgamation proposals are proving divisive and suggested advantages are being ridiculed in the light of Auckland’s financial woes.
National Governments have traditionally been loathe to interfere with the independence of local councils, but more recently the present administration has introduced legislative changes which give a range of Ministerial interventions aimed at keeping councils on track in terms of fiscal management and responsibility.
These are big problems to be dealt with, and the appointment of a strong senior Minister to the Local Government portfolio should bring some hope to overburdened ratepayers that the Government has recognised the problems and intends to address them.

  • Roger Strong
  • October 8th, 2014
  • 4:50 pm

Our local council treats any complaints as an irritant and the people who make them and the ratepayers in general as ‘the enemy’ -personally I don’t see this changing anytime soon. The only positive publicity that the council enjoys comes from the council itself.

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