In November, we provided a Briefing to the Incoming Minister of Local Government, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Managing for Community Well-being, followed by Tuning up the Engine, an outline potential changes to local government law. The Briefing focuses on the ‘big issues’ facing the sector including promoting well-being, water reform, climate change, housing, funding and accountability, civics education, and workforce issues. These are outline below:

  • Central and local government should be partners in promoting the well-being of New Zealanders. We believe restoring well-being to the statutory purpose of local government was a good first step but that more needs to be done at the policy and practice levels. Finding solutions to multi-faceted issues such as housing affordability requires the best thinking and resources from both central and local government.
  • The sector is open to exploring different options for delivering three water services and any reform must take account of the role these services play in supporting community well-being. The case for reform is primarily an economic one – a larger entity will be able to bear the costs. While every local authority has signed the Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to participate in co-design of possible options for reform of three water services, it is important solutions meet well-being objectives such as promoting a sustainable urban form and environmental sustainability objectives.
  • Climate change is a major challenge to the strength and resilience of future communities. Local government is at the forefront of assisting communities to transitioning to living in a disrupted climate and needs central government support to do so. Rising sea levels and temperatures, extreme weather events and changing rainfall will affect different areas in different ways. Central government support is needed to support the efforts of local government and we welcome the recommendation that Parliament enact a Managed Retreat Act.
  • Central and local government should take a partnership approach to the development of the nation’s stock of social housing. Effective housing outcomes are essential for the nation’s social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being. With demands for social housing increasing, a joined up approach by local and central government will have a significant future result and help prevent negative well-being outcomes caused by insufficient social housing.
  • The Government and the sector should co-design the improvements needed to local government funding and accountability. The Productivity Commission’s report on local government funding and financing stated “in some situations, the current system is either failing to provide councils with adequate revenues or is unlikely to be sufficient soon”. Progress has been made in some areas but the Commission’s basic conclusions remain unchallenged – in particular around the funding for climate change adaption amongst others. There has been no substantive discussion between central and local government as to the next steps and the sector expects an outcome from this review.
  • Enhanced participation in local democracy will come from a combination of civics education, better engagement practice, better information about processes and candidates and the removal of barriers to participation. Turnout is one indicator of the health of civic society and research suggests that lower turnout is expected in future elections. A strategy to improve participation in elections needs to look more broadly at the drivers of disengagement. Enhancing the local government elements of the civics curriculum will build public understanding of local government and why participation is important.
  • There is an opportunity for central and local government to work together to jointly develop the public sector workforce. While the public sector and local government managers operate in different authorising environments, each have similar values and similar challenges with recruitment and retention of key skills and competencies. Taking a joined-up approach to workforce planning is in the interests of central government, local government and ultimately the people paying the bill.

At our first meeting with Minister Mahuta this month, we handed over a second briefing Tuning up the Engine which provided a list of recommendations for reform of legislation that sits within the Minister’s portfolio.

View the full Briefing to the Incoming Minister – Managing for community well-being

View the Tuning up the Engine – potential changes to local government law briefing.