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Local government to come back under control – but what kind

  • May 30th, 2012

Today's announcement that Kaipara Council is to get a central government  "review team" to "to assist Kaipara to work through its issues" is another straw on the back of the local government camel created in 2002 when they all got "general competence" or the power to do whatever came into the Councillors' heads as a good idea.

That was constitutional barbarism then, and we are reaping the costs now. Among other things, it reinforced the trend to Council being a full time occupation for too many  who would never get such a job from any boss who needed value for money, and further burdened the extraordinary few for whom part time public service was once the crowning of a successful career outside.

The government is getting plenty of examples to show why it must press ahead with its nobbling reforms. 

Too many Councils are getting into strife, then leaving their ratepayers to demand rescue from the government. There is some excuse for those who have blown their budgets on Rolls Royce water and sewage schemes. The government let the Ministry of Health set absurd standards that are simply unjustified on any environmental measure that takes account of wasted money and energy. But still, the local authorities failed to say no.

This was foreseen in my blog comparison of Kaipara to Athens. Here we have the government forced into the position of the Merkel and her Germans;

a)      damned for letting the Council get into hopeless commitments,

b)      damned if they now rescue Kaipara, because it will encourage a host of other imprudent Councils to demand the same (not least Auckland, with its nutty train plans, and its hostility to subdivision and intensification in its leafy suburbs, but expecting the government to subsidise its people who cant afford the consequent high housing costs,

c)       damned if they do not rescue Kaipara’s ratepayers from electing incompetents,

d)      damned for being anti-democratic when they suspend local democracy to clean up the mess, as they had to do with Canterbury Regional Council (and now Christchurch City).

 No government will tolerate a situation where it is damned in so many ways without having tools to control and limit their risks.
We can expect to see a significant change to tighten the control strings on Councils:

a)      If they get it wrong, it will allow councillors to run elections blaming the tight control from Wellington for every disappointment and using that as an excuse for incompetence.

b)      If they get it right it will probably be by going back to law more like what we had before the sorry reforms of 2002, where Councils are simply not permitted to do whatever they want – under law, not the discretionary whim of Welllington officials.


  • AngryTory
  • May 30th, 2012
  • 8:42 pm

Time to get rid of popularly elected councils altogether.   Why Hide kept Hellen's plan for a general franchise for the supercity, instead of a ratepayer franchise, I've still no idea.
Better still to simply refound all elected councils as city corporations, board and CEO appointed by the shareholders, and be done with it.

  • Ron Manderson
  • May 31st, 2012
  • 4:11 pm

The answer as I see it is not further re-organisation to allegedly more competent administrators but simply to get the involvement of Government (Central and Local) responsibilities to a minimum. Time I suggest to show confidence in the ability of people to better manage their own futures. We have failures of Governments to properly administer regulatory obligations relevant  the Global Financial Crisis, the Leaky Homes saga, and now Local Government.

  • Richard Hoadley
  • June 3rd, 2012
  • 12:23 pm

Where does the liability of the Councillors, past and present, lie with respect to the debit that has been created.
Would Central Government bail them out as individuals if charged, or would Central Government help and reduce the debit that many Councils (eg Taupo) now have?

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