The election period is over, the Ministers have their feet under the table and, in the week before Christmas, the Government released all of the briefings that departments provided to Ministers. Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) and Taituarā — Local Government Professionals Aotearoa also provided briefings – in our case to the Minister of Local Government, and in LGNZ’s case a cross-portfolio briefing to the Government as a whole.

The briefings that LGNZ, Taituarā and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) provided the Minister of Local Government (the Minister) all emphasise the dynamic and fast-changing nature of the local government portfolio — an important point to note given the wide-ranging reforms in place across resource management, freshwater, health, and three waters etc.

The interconnected nature of the reform process is also a common element across the three briefings – albeit the connections are approached from slightly different perspectives. LGNZ notes the reforms are all “are related to place, and place and place-making are what councils know and do best”, whereas we, and the DIA, place more emphasis on the impact on the total system capacity. The DIA is reasonably free and frank in its advice that prioritisation across the portfolio will be required.

We all acknowledge the primary role of local government is to promote the present and future social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of their communities. This extends to a role for the sector in resolving the big public policy issues of the 21st century such as climate change, affordable housing and social inclusion. We develop this point further with our comments on the need for central and local government to take more of a ‘shared’ approach to the development of the public sector workforce.

DIA note that two big priorities in the portfolio are three waters reform and RMA reform. The 67 territorial authorities all signed the initial memorandum committing them to an exploration of options for improving delivery of three waters services. Each briefing notes the role these services play in the promotion of community well-being. We and LGNZ emphasise the need for robust and appropriate accountability mechanisms as well as thinking about how many and where the boundary lines go. Funding arrangements are the other big sleeper that’s not yet been gone into.

The briefings each touch in different ways on the need for governance reform. The DIA’s emphasis is on the evolving nature of the system and the need for governance arrangements to evolve to keep pace. Beyond a few remarks about the review of the Local Government Commission there’s little else. We and LGNZ both discuss the need to look at the arrangements for supporting good governance conduct with some specifics arounds the Member’s Interests Act and the code of conduct provisions of the Local Government Act. 

Each of the three briefings touches on a sector challenge that is perhaps somewhat overlooked at Cabinet level. We speak of a need enhance the level of civic engagement with the sector. While turnout is but one measure of civic engagement it’s the one that the media and the sector’s detractors focus on. All three emphasise reforms of the Local Electoral Act as one step. Our briefing moves beyond that to emphasise the need to enhance civics in the education curriculum and voter education. There’s a need for an investment in these areas – which comes at a time when DHB reform might see one of the funding partners withdrawing from local elections.

And perhaps, the thing that most stood out for us at Taituarā is that our colleagues at LGNZ and at the DIA both describe Taituarā as one of the sector’s “lead agencies”. Taituarā’s long-term strategy of putting robust technical and practical advice to Ministers has secured a seat at the table for management.

You can view each of the briefing documents in full below:

View Taituarā’s  Briefing to the Incoming Minister – Managing for Community Well-being and Tuning up the Engine - Potential Changes to Local Government Law.

View the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) Briefing for the incoming government

View the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) Briefing to the Incoming Minister of Local Government