Recently this Cabinet paper (PDF) from Local Government Minister Rodney Hide was released into the public arena and it certainly makes for interesting reading. I commented on this on the blog I write for my organization, and I feel that it is such an important development that it needs repeating and expansion here.
“The Cabinet has signed off on Mr Hide’s request for the Department of Internal Affairs to review local government law, including the removal of the requirement for councils to deliver on “community outcomes” such as social, environmental and cultural “wellbeing” which Mr Hide said pushed councils into providing services well beyond their core roles” From the Herald.
The purpose of the paper seems to be the start of legislative review of Local Government laws, with an objective to redefine local body government. While some of the objectives seem laudable like looking at regulation to reduce the burden on rate payers by ensuring councils focus on “core” services, and that compliance costs are reduced, there are some worrying elements in the document.
“I propose to link the second Government priority area – reduce bureaucracy and focus on frontline services – with the concerns I have about growth in rates and council funding decisions… While there is no formal definition of core services for local government, I would expect there to be general acceptance that it includes transport services (roading, footpaths, public transport); water services (water supply, sewage treatment, stormwater and flood protection); and public health and safety services (refuse collection and regulation of nuisances).” From the document.
Like what are “core” services? What if differing communities have different views on what constitutes core services? Fortunately on RadioNZ Rodney Hide said libraries would be core local government service as his mum would never forgive him if. However I think it would be shortsighted on us to rely on Mrs Hide.
At the outset we are already seeing a very narrow focus on “core” services. Though I have to admit I am biased in this area, I would classify Libraries as a core service. Also note there is no mention of parks in this. Personally I think there is discussion that should be carried out regarding “core” services, as I am unsure as to whether councils should be involved in activities such as housing. What we have to ensure is that we have a solid well thought out defense of services such as libraries.
Also how do you protect council services from radical changes in service delivery from council to council? A council may be elected that believes it has a mandate to gut social services and goes about doing so. On the next election that council is thrown out because the community didn’t want them to gut those services, and elects a council to restore service cut, which would inevitably lead greater cost of reestablishing those services. Any revision off council services needs to include protections of well established assets.
As you can see, I am conflicted on this. Whilst I am all for a discussion on what constitutes a “Core” service, and I support reviewing legislation to make sure it is not creating unnecessary burdens, I worry that any such discussion will be dominated by those with an ideological barrow to push. It seems to me that sometimes when people focus on financial costs in this area it is to the detriment of the community.
I am sure, and hope, that LIANZA, and the APLM are on to this, as this is where such organizations come into their own, lobbying government. So read the document, be aware of what is happening on your own councils, and make sure you make your voice heard when it counts.