Support the Guardian

Available for everyone, funded by readers

Sweeping local govt reform recommended

Sweeping local govt reform recommended
Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown.

Amalgamating councils is a possibility if an independent review of local government is adopted.
But its unclear if Ashburton would be forced to merge with a neighbouring council.
Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown felt there was a lot to like in the just-released recommendations from the Future for Local Government review panel.
But he had some concerns about being forced into an amalgamation.
The independent panel made 17 recommendations, with one of the potentially most controversial proposals being to consolidate the country’s 78 local authorities.
Panel chairperson Jim Palmer said new representative bodies would be shaped on a principle of “self-determination” in each region/district.
The two options suggested are a unitary model or a regional combined authority.
A unitary council would be an amalgamation of all councils, including regional councils, in one area.
A regional combined authority would have the councils remain, sharing functions and services.
That raised the potential for council amalgamations.
“Any amalgamation would always work better when it’s all voluntary,” Brown said.
“Would Ashburton have to merge with someone? I’m not sure.
“We are a reasonable size on our own, but there are some smaller ones around that could get some efficiencies for ratepayers if they merge and that will be up to them to decide.”
One of the recommendations getting a thumbs up from Brown was for a “significant shift in funding”.
That includes suggestions for an annual transfer from central government starting at $1 billion, all GST paid on rates to go to local government, and for central government to pay rates on its properties.
“Extra funding will always be welcome,” Brown said.
Palmer said councils were doing great work, but were hampered by a lack of funding and day-to-day pressures.
Another recommendation was for a statutory requirement for councils to form partnership frameworks with Māori.
The panel also recommends lowering the threshold for the establishment of Māori wards and enabling Te Tiriti-based appointments to councils.
Brown said his personal view would be for a democratically elected councillor rather than an appointee, and with Ashburton due for a representative review next year, it will again consider the possibility of a Maori ward.
The report also recommends a new crown department be formed to lead the reforms, “to manage the relationship between central and local government that clarifies roles, allocates resources, and together deliver greater value for communities”.
While there is plenty to consider, there isn’t likely to be any action on the report until next year, Brown said
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has already stated Cabinet won’t make decisions on the report before October’s general election, but the panel was confident the report would not be put on a shelf to gather dust.

The facts:

The 17 recommendations include:
• A four-year local electoral term
• Single transferrable vote nationwide for local elections
• Enable mana whenua appointees to councils
• Lowering the voting age for local elections to 16
• Embedding the purpose of local government into legislation, which would require a parliamentary supermajority.
• A new Crown department to facilitate the relationship between local and central government
• Central government pays rates on Crown property
• Cabinet is required to consider the funding impact on local government of proposed policy decisions

  • By Jonathan Leask