Chief Executive Peter Guerin's 'Council Talk' column in today's Daily Post.
Rotorua District Council has made a submission on the government’s local government reform proposals and recently joined forces with other Bay of Plenty and Waikato councils to give a united council perspective to the select committee considering the Local Government Reform Bill.
I thought it would be useful to touch on the eight key changes signalled by the government, in the interests of ensuring our community is aware of what would become the most far-reaching changes to local government in more than twenty years.
The government’s eight point reform programme, labelled “Better Local Government,” is aimed at improving the legislative framework for the country’s 78 councils. Launching the proposals earlier this year the then Minister of Local Government Nick Smith said it would provide better clarity about the role of councils, stronger governance, improved efficiency and more responsible fiscal management. In brief the eight key proposals are:
- Refocus local government purpose: The Local Government Act would be amended to replace economic, environmental, cultural and social well-being provisions with a new purpose for councils of “providing good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions, at least possible cost to households and business.” This proposal has been universally rejected by all councils as being unnecessary and for removing the power of local communities to choose the functions and services they want their local councils to focus on.
- Introduce fiscal responsibility requirements: The Act would include fiscal responsibility requirements for income and expenditure, and for determining prudent debt levels.
- Strengthen council governance: Councils would be empowered to set staff numbers and remuneration levels, and include staff salary information by bands in annual reports. Mayors would appoint deputy mayors, establish committees, appoint chairpersons, and propose plans and budgets. The government would have intervention powers including appointment of crown reviewers, observers, managers or commissioners, or to call an early election.
- Streamline council reorganisation procedures: The Act would be changed to streamline reorganisation proposals, and give councils more flexibility to determine ward boundaries.
- Establish efficiency task force: A local government efficiency taskforce would be set up to review councils’ planning, consultation and reporting requirements.
- Develop framework for government/local government regulatory roles: The Productivity Commission would review local government functions to improve regulatory performance. The government would then develop a framework for deciding which functions are best provided by local and central government.
- Investigate efficiency of infrastructure provision: An expert advisory group would look at how quality infrastructure could best be delivered, at least cost, to support a growing economy.
- Review development contributions: Development contributions policy would be reviewed.
The first four of these proposals are nearing the point where the select committee will report to the government with any suggested changes ahead of the Local Government Reform Bill being passed into law, in time for implementation with local government elections in October 2013.
Work on the remaining four proposals is underway and will feed into a second Local Government Reform Bill scheduled for next year.
RDC Chief Executive