A commission was appointed, after 3 Waters and Resource Management reforms had been announced, to review local government. It’s a cart before the horse exercise but there are good people on the review panel.
The members appointed for two years are:
Jim Palmer (chair), Penny Hulse, Gael Surgenor, Antoine Coffin, and Brendan Boyle. John Ombler served as a panel member from April to July 2021.
What concerned me about the interim report was I did not read the word “subsidiarity” anywhere. This was the word we used often as we all worked on the Local Government Act in 2002. Nothing sensible will come out of this report while central government officials and ministers continue to view local government as anything other than what they can bully or push around. Currently we have a centralising force coming from Wellington. This commission will be weak and useless unless it is bold and futuristic in its approach.
Here’s a definition of subsidiarity:
subsidiarity refers to the absolute right of local communities to take decisions for themselves, including the decision to surrender the matter to a larger forum. Subsidiarity places an absolute brake upon centralizing powers by permitting their involvement only when requested.
We will return to this commission and investigate what we think down here on what the members should be turning their minds to.
Here’s what the initial report stated:
The review process is taking place in three stages, and will involve engagement with local and central government, iwi, the business sector, community organisations, young people, and the wider public.
This first stage has involved initial scoping and early engagement with some (mainly local government) organisations to help us take a future-focused look at the local governance system and identify priority questions and lines of inquiry. This interim report reflects the results of that work, and signals our broad lines of inquiry for the next stage.
The next stage of our review will involve a broader public engagement about the future of local governance and democracy in New Zealand, alongside research and policy development. After completing that work, we will report to the Minister of Local Government with draft findings and recommendations. Under our terms of reference, that report is due by 30 September 2022.
Formal consultation and final report
The third stage will involve formal consultation about our draft recommendations. We will consider public submissions, before we deliver our final report in April 2023.
The report continues by saying that coordination is needed to ensure that:
▸ reforms (especially in resource management) do not close down options before there has been adequate time for broad consideration about the future structures and functions of local government;
▸ reform programmes do not place unnecessary pressures on local authorities, or on other partners such as iwi which will be heavily involved in new three waters and resource management systems; and
▸ reforms leverage existing strengths from local government reform – for example, by building on existing contributions of local government to public health, and by creating opportunities for local government to support community-led design of local health services.
What are the implications for local governance?
Any redesigned system of local governance will need to address current and emerging pressures and take account of the impacts of planned reforms. Addressing these pressures will mean:
▸ Taking steps to break down mistrust between local and central government, and instead building a culture based on mutual respect and collaboration, consistent with a spirit of unified public service.
▸ Designing the system to allocate local government functions and roles at the most appropriate scale, whether that is community, town or city, sub-national, or national levels, while providing flexibility and supporting collaborative approaches, and acknowledging that local authorities may still vary in scale.
▸ Ensuring the statutory and policy framework clearly defines functions, roles and expected wellbeing impacts; aligns objectives; simplifies processes and responsibilities; and provides clear direction and accountability for all agencies involved in local governance and service delivery.
▸ Improving alignment of boundaries for agencies involved in sub-national or local governance, including central and local government, and iwi rohe.
▸ Ensuring that all local authorities have sufficient capability and financial capacity to carry out the roles and functions allocated to them. This might involve central government providing some services to support effective local governance. It might also involve funding or other support for local authorities to address
major challenges such as climate change, or to implement national policy priorities.
▸ Seeking representation and engagement arrangements that more effectively reflect all interests and communities including iwi/Māori, provide voice for those whose interests are currently under-represented, and support effective governance and decision-making.
▸ Exploring new approaches to local democracy that have potential to build public trust and confidence, and support all communities to be involved in decision-making and have their interests represented.
Here’s the first report: https://www.futureforlocalgovernment.govt.nz