Review into the Future of Local Government
Review into the Future of Local Government
Tuesday 21 December, 2021
“Under the current system local authorities hold few of the levers that drive well-being and prosperity in their communities”.
This statement is buried in the middle of the interim report, Arewa ake te Kaupapa: Raising the Platform, which was released at the end of September at the completion of the first phase of the Government’s Review into the Future for Local Government. The unhighlighted comment perhaps sums up the need for the Review, suggesting succinctly that something beyond the control of local authorities is wrong with the current system of local governance.
What is the Review about?
The purpose of the Review, as stated on the Te Tari Taiwhenua: Dept of Internal Affairs website - is to, “identify how our system of local democracy and governance needs to evolve over the next 30 years, to improve the well-being of NZ communities and the environment, and actively embody the Treaty partnership”. An independent review panel of five chaired by Jim Palmer is tasked with a 3-stage review process culminating in a report to the Minister for Local Government in April 2023. The scope of the Review is broad, encompassing –
- Roles, functions, and partnerships
- Representation and governance
- Funding and financing.
The statement makes it clear that while the Government will welcome the work of the Review, “it will not be pre-committed to its findings”.
What is in the interim report?
Arewa ake te Kaupapa traverses the context of the Review, recognising climate change, the development and application of new technology, and emerging Treaty of Waitangi partnerships as driving trends over the next 30 years. It recognises the other changes already impacting on local authorities, commenting:
“Planned resource management and three-waters reforms also call into question the broader functions and roles of local government, while other reforms in health and education have implications for local governance and well-being.”
Along the way Arewa ake te Kaupapa brings forward some interesting and thought-provoking facts about the strength and diversity of the communities of local government and those it serves. For example, in case there should be any doubt about the value of strengthening Treaty of Waitangi partnerships, it points out that Maori-owned businesses added an estimated $17 billion to our GDP in 2018. Additionally, it reminds us how different local governance can be for different communities by contrasting Auckland’s population of 1.7 million with a budget of $4.4 billion, with that of the Chathams with a population of 760 and a budget of $8 million.
After an initial round of discussions with local and central government representative, some iwi, business groups, experts in relevant disciplines and unspecified others, a series of emerging themes has been identified. These include, in the current environment:
- Pressures on funding, capacity, and compliance
- Difficulties in the relationship between local and central government
- Too many consultation and engagement demands on Maori without a corresponding benefit
- Diverse communities not adequately represented or involved in decision-making
- Business sector needs not met.
For the future an even longer set of themes emerges to address those current issues, and from these discussions and input a series of five priority questions has been extracted to be addressed in the next phase of the Review. These questions, which the Panel will address over the next year in consultation with communities, iwi, businesses, local authorities, government agencies and others, address –
- The shape of local governance
- Future functions, roles, and features
- How to partner authentically under the Treaty of Waitangi
- What needs to change to reflect and respond to communities
- Changes to funding and financing.
Out of this consultation will come a set of recommendations to the Minister. There is much to be done before that happens, and no guarantee those recommendations will be adopted. But there is one thing to be certain of after the Minister’s decision on the three-waters review – she will not be deterred from making those changes she considers necessary.