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Another Point of View!

Rodney Hyde has let fly at local government generally with the following in his NBR column this week. I cannot disagree with him - there will be an outcry from the boondocks of course at the "denial of democracy," but let's face it, the current system simply does not work - there is plenty of evidence of what Rodney says right here in Thames Coromandel:

"Local government is kaput. 

The reasons are many and varied.

First, local government is controlled and directed by central government. The Auckland Council inherited 109 statutory functions. It’s no longer the mayor and the town clerk looking after the parks and collecting the rubbish. There’s been no rationalisation of function.

Second, the all-important spend on infrastructure is controlled by central government. It decides everything that matters. It sets the rules, issues the directives and dollops out the cash.

Third, local government is used as an instrument of national policy. For example, council governance is increasingly set by Treaty of Waitangi settlements and policy directives are delivered from on high on matters as diverse as aquaculture and land supply. There’s a continuous stream overwhelming local government.

Fourth, councils lack party structure and discipline. The mayor can only ever count on one vote. They are leaders in name only. They can’t campaign on clear policy. They can only do what their council decides.

Fifth, the power and flow of information resides with the chief executive. There is little competing advice as with, say, the cabinet with multiple departments having input as well as oversight departments such as the Treasury and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Sixth, the CEO is all-powerful but councils have poor information on which to judge performance and little incentive to hold CEOs to account. My observation is that successful mayors back the CEO no matter what – and vice versa. It’s not healthy.

Seventh, there is no constitutional limit on local government and no constitutional protection of local government from central government. Local government is government in name only.

The possible fixes follow the diagnosis from the more radical to the less radical.

One, stop the pretence and make a department of state responsible for all local government functions. The country would be divided up into regions with commissioners appointed to run the 109 functions. Central government would be held to account, as it should be.

Two, carve the country up into five local council jurisdictions, have elected councils and have regular cabinet committee meetings with councils to develop and implement joint infrastructure plans.

Three, limit the activities of local government to core tasks.

Four, establish clear constitutional understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of central and local government.

Five, have the State Services Commissioner appoint and fire council CEOs with councillors having the same input ministers provide for departmental heads. That would provide a big boost in performance and accountability.

I accept that as a sceptic of all government I will be criticised for offering advice. But it’s hard to stand by and watch people attempt to drive a nail with a saw when there’s a hammer handy.

I should add for completeness that I did advocate the above policies when I was Minister of Local Government. They never found much favour."



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