Greetings and welcome to the latest Local Government Commission newsletter. The newsletter provides information about the work of the Commission and aims to contribute to discussion of local government structures and good practice generally. Details for how to unsubscribe or how to contact us for more information can be found at the end of the newsletter.
In the near future the Commission will be contacting local government leaders to set up visits to Mayors and Regional Council Chairs across New Zealand. The visits, during which we would like to have joint discussions with Mayors and Chairs across a region, will begin early in 2016 and be staggered over the following months. They are likely to begin with the Bay of Plenty and Waikato, and will involve either myself or one of my fellow Commissioners, Janie Annear or Leigh Auton, and our Chief Executive Sandra Preston.
As many of you may be aware, the Commission is taking a more flexible approach to its work in the local government sector, one that prioritises collaboration and facilitation. We want to hear from Mayors, Chairs and councils around the country about how they see local government in their area, and the issues they face; and to work with them in exploring opportunities for local government.
We have been encouraged to hear of the collaborative work being done between councils in many regions and would be interested to hear more about this on our visits. While we are here to provide information about local government and to promote good practice, we also see our role as listening to councils and communities, helping think about options where change is being discussed, and to assist in helping overcome barriers where they exist.
At present the Commission is involved in meetings with the respective Mayors, councils and applicants in Wellington, Northland, West Coast and North Rodney, following reorganisation applications (see below). To date, our discussions on the particular challenges these regions face have been positive and professional.
For example, in the Wellington region, we are working with the Wellington Regional Mayoral Forum to investigate different ways to achieve effective shared or integrated services in functions such as transport and spatial planning. At the invitation of local government leaders we have also been to Hawke’s Bay for follow-up conversations following the clear public rejection of the amalgamation proposal. These conversations have been constructive.
In her July speech to the Local Government New Zealand conference in Rotorua, Local Government Minister Paula Bennett was clear in her expectations of the sector, including a focus on sensible spending on reliable infrastructure, with locked-in change to help deliver this. She said she would not legislate for large amalgamations, rather was charging the Local Government Commission with working up various options that could fit with different regions’ needs.
Last week the Minister announced that she would introduce legislation early in 2016 to allow councils to transfer core functions between regional and territorial authorities. Or, where there were perceived advantages, they could transfer them to Council Controlled Organisations. She reiterated her expectation that the Commission would work with councils and communities to enable options that suit their local needs.
Here at the Local Government Commission we appreciate many communities and their local government leaders face common challenges. But we also know the approach to them may vary from region to region. We want to engage in conversations with Mayors, Chairs and councils about these issues and some of the possible pathways for addressing them, as well as gain an understanding of regional particularities and local context.
Such conversations will, I’m sure, contribute to constructive relationships across the sector, and, looking forward, towards meeting shared aspirations – such as efficient services and cost-effective modern infrastructure.
As we all know, local government change, as with most other forms of change, can present challenges to those entrusted to lead it. But change – particularly in technology and demographics – offers opportunities, too.
One of our challenges – and a pressing focus – at the Local Government Commission is to work with local government leaders, on behalf of their communities, to identify and take advantage of those opportunities.
Nāku noa, nā
Chair, Local Government Commission
In June the Commission announced it would not proceed with a proposal to amalgamate all councils in the region. Instead it said it would go back and consult with the community, because while most people opposed the proposal, many expressed the need for change to meet Wellington’s future local government needs.
Since then there has been a reset in the relationship between the Commission and Wellington region councils, with a number of constructive meetings at Chief Executive and Chair, Mayoral, and Councillor level. The Commission has met with Councillors – as the key link to local communities – at Kapiti Coast District, Greater Wellington, South Wairarapa District, Carterton District and Masterton District Councils, and has meetings scheduled with the other councils in the region.
The Commission and the Mayoral Forum have been collaborating on how councils can work together on important local government services. They have agreed to prioritise transport and are also looking at spatial planning. Separate parallel conversations have begun to consider the options for Wairarapa.
In a joint media release by the Commission and the Wellington Regional Mayoral Forum, Commission Chair Sir Wira Gardiner and Mayoral Forum Chair Wayne Guppy agreed it was important to identify and progress options.
“We are working with the Commission to look at how councils can work more effectively together on important council services like transport,’’ Mayor Guppy said. He was keen to see the Commission’s process progressed and settled by mid-2016. “This has been a long running process and the community rightly expects us to get on with ensuring we have the best local government arrangements in place for the region.’’
In a Radio New Zealand Checkpoint report following the release, Wellington Deputy Mayor Justin Lester said: “We're having a much more sober discussion, I guess, compared to the hysteria that was seen around amalgamation previously and councils talking across at each other. Now people are quite happy to look at shared services options, we've done a lot of work already with Wellington Water, with Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency and we're looking very carefully at a transport authority.’’
Chair of the Wellington Regional Mayoral Forum Wayne Guppy talked about the possibility of some “areas where we need legislation … but nothing's off the table, amalgamation's gone but it's about now seeing where else we can make really good benefits for the Wellington region.’’
Carterton Mayor John Booth was also upbeat about the process: “Before it was more like this is what we want you to do whereas this way they're engaging with us and asking us what areas we feel that we could do better. I feel that's a much more positive way that we're being asked, not being told,’’ he told the programme.
Sir Wira said that the Commission and the Forum would shortlist two or three packages of options and put them before the public in the first half of 2016 with a view to announcing final proposals around the middle of the year.
The 18 September publication of the final poll result (66% to 34% against, rounded) for the Hawke’s Bay amalgamation proposal confirmed the status quo would prevail and concluded the Commission’s formal process.
In its media release Commission Chair Sir Wira Gardiner acknowledged Hawke’s Bay people had made an important decision on its local government arrangements and commended the commitment and energy with which the community had participated in the debate. He noted that while the region had decided against formal amalgamation of its five councils “many of those opposed to the proposal agreed that much more can and must be done to work together to achieve permanent, positive and effective change’’.
Subsequent media reports have indicated a renewed commitment by all four Hawke’s Bay Mayors and the Regional Council Chair to work together. Sir Wira expressed a willingness to visit Hawke’s Bay leaders to hear their views and discuss ways in which the Commission might be able to offer practical assistance as they investigate the delivery of more cost-effective services and infrastructure.
An invitation was forthcoming, and the visit earlier this month, during which Sir Wira met with Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Chair Fenton Wilson and Napier, Hastings, Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa Mayors Bill Dalton, Lawrence Yule, Peter Butler and Craig Little in a joint meeting, was constructive and welcomed by both sides. A follow-up visit is planned for the end of the month.
As with Wellington, on 9 June the Commission announced it would not proceed with a proposal to amalgamate all councils in the Northland region. Likewise, it said it would return to the community and work with it to identify major challenges and the options for dealing with them. A number of meetings have been held, the latest of these being between the Commission and Chief Executives on 14 October, and between the Commission and the Northland Mayoral Forum on 19 October.
The Commission has agreed its work should fit into the existing strategic and shared services project. The Councils will remain sponsors of the work streams, with the Commission looking to add value where it can. Further details on the ways in which the Commission and the councils will work together are to be agreed in forthcoming meetings.
In August the Commission agreed to assess an application from the Northern Action Group (NAG) for a unitary council for North Rodney. The Commission is working with NAG as the applicant, has visited the area for meetings in recent weeks, and is collecting information from a wide range of sources, including Auckland Council.
The Local Government Commission has also agreed to assess an application for a unitary authority for the West Coast region. The application was lodged by Peter Salter and Anthea Keenan. Commissioner Janie Annear and Commission Chief Executive Officer Sandra Preston have had introductory meetings with some West Coast leaders and the applicants, and met with the region’s Mayors, Chair, and Chief Executives this week. “We want to hear whatever innovative thoughts the community have about local government in their region,’’ said Commissioner Annear. “We remain very open about the options and hope to facilitate discussions about potential solutions to perceived challenges.’’ At present, no precise timeframe for next steps has been set down, but the wider community will have opportunities to be involved and comment during the process.
Twenty-two local authorities are required to review their representation arrangements this year. Eight councils have completed their reviews with either no submissions being received or no appeals lodged against their proposed arrangements.
Two councils – Kapiti Coast District Council and Thames-Coromandel District Council – completed their reviews without receiving any appeals but have referred their proposed representation arrangements to the Commission as they have aspects that do not comply with the +/-10% requirement. The Commission may approve their proposals if it considers a departure from the +/-10% rule is required for the effective representation of communities of interest. This is a new process that allows some flexibility in how the +/-10% requirement is applied to territorial authorities.
Appeals have been received against the final proposals of four councils – Dunedin City Council, South Waikato District Council, Tauranga City Council and Whakatane District Council. The Commission will begin considering these reviews shortly. The remaining eight councils are at various stages of the process or are awaiting the closing date for appeals.
The Minister of Local Government has appointed two temporary members to the Local Government Commission. They are Pauline Kingi and Leith Comer who will serve until 13 May 2016 and will assist the Commission with considering representation reviews.
Pauline is a Barrister and Solicitor and company director. She has previously been Chancellor of Auckland University of Technology and Regional Director of Te Puni Kokiri for Tamaki Makaurau.
Leith has been an officer in the New Zealand Army, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Chief Executive of Te Puni Kokiri. He is currently project leader at Excell Rotorua, a joint Government/Community education initiative.
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