Greetings and welcome to the latest Local Government Commission newsletter. The newsletter provides information about the work of the Commission and aims to contribute to discussion of local government structures and good practice generally.
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New Commissioners Sir Wira Gardiner and Leigh Auton have been appointed by Minister of Local Government Hon Paula Bennett. Janie Annear has been reappointed. Their terms began on 1 August and run for three years.
A former professional soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd) Sir Wira Gardiner has a long and distinguished public service career, including extensive governance experience. He was the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal and founding chief executive of the Ministry of Māori Development (Te Puni Kokiri). He has been National Director of Civil Defence, Chair of Te Mangai Paho and deputy chair of Te Ohu Kaimoana. He was Chair of the Tertiary Education Commission between 2010 and 2012, and Chair of the Board of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa between 2010 and 2013. Sir Wira was made a Knight of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008 for services to Māori. Sir Wira has published a number of books and is currently working on the history of B Company 28 Māori Battalion.
Current Commissioner Janie Annear, who has been a member of the Commission since 1 July 2014 and served three terms as the Mayor of Timaru from 2004 to 2013, has been reappointed. In 2014 Janie was appointed as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to local government. In April 2014 she was appointed by the Minister of Local Government as Temporary Member of the Local Government Commission and was made a permanent member in July 2014. Janie has experience across a wide range of private sector, local government and central government roles. She serves on the Boards of the Lottery Community Facilities and Significant Projects Funds. She is a Director of Timaru Holdings. She also chairs Aoraki Polytechnic Council.
Leigh Auton has extensive local government experience with a particular background in planning, infrastructure and transport, and is former Chief Executive of Manukau City Council and former interim Chief Executive of Tauranga City Council. Leigh is Chartered Member of the Institute of Directors, and a Director/Trustee/Chair for a number of public and private sector entities. He was a member of the Board of Inquiry for the Men’s prison at Wiri in 2011, and a member of the Review Panel for the Kaipara District Council in 2012. He is a former President and Inaugural Fellow of the NZ Planning Institute and, in November 2009, he received a Distinguished Service Award for his contribution to the image and practice of planning.
Greetings to all those in the local government sector. I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with you all in this critically important area. I had the good fortune to meet some of you at the recent LGNZ conference in Rotorua, and to renew some old acquaintances. I look forward to meeting more people in local government as my fellow commissioners and I settle into our roles.
Leigh Auton, Janie Annear and I will be building on the hard work and platforms of our departing predecessors, Basil Morrison and Anne Carter.
At the recent conference the Minister of Local Government, Hon Paula Bennett, was forthright in her ambitions for change in local government and what it should be seeking to achieve. In her speech, the Minister gave all of local government a call to action. She asked that local government re-dedicate themselves to focusing on the issues that matter most to people and communities: more jobs, sustained long-term economic growth, and sensible spending on reliable and resilient infrastructure. She asked all of local government to think beyond close relationships and sharing resources, services and expertise, and look at what is needed to achieve those outcomes in a region.
What does the Minister’s speech mean for the Commission’s work and approach?
The Commission is determined to assist both the Minister and local communities to achieve more effective local government that supports the economic and social goals of our regions. Since my appointment I have been thinking about how the Commission might carry out this role.
The Minister’s speech was consistent with the June announcements made by the Commission on the three reorganisation applications currently before us. These announcements clearly recognise that regions can face different challenges and facing those challenges may require different approaches to change.
As a result, in our work with local communities there will be a much more targeted approach to figuring out how local government in a region should respond to the challenges it faces. Together, we will concentrate more on local government functions that matter most in supporting effective and dynamic communities and can help them realise their economic potential – water, transport, planning and regulation, and economic development. We are less interested in focusing on changes to representative structures, unless they are strongly supported by communities.
Instead, the focus will be on solutions and options that will deliver sustainable growth, better services, modern infrastructure, strong leadership, resilient communities – and sustained, locked-in change.
The range of possibilities could include different business structures or Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs), binding shared service arrangements, recalibrating roles and functions between regional councils and territorial authorities, even, where local communities support them, some amalgamations. The Minister also mentioned the impact changes may have on the role of the regional councils. In some cases, changes may mean regional councils are no longer required while in other cases regional councils may take on more or fewer responsibilities.
We will be working alongside councils and communities in developing options. And together we will be engaging communities in discussions about the options we have available to move forward. Local democratic participation in this process is vital.
The Minister has said she is prepared to legislate where required to enact the best approach.
What does this mean for the current re-organisation proposals in Wellington, Northland and Hawkes Bay?
Region-wide amalgamations are off the table in Wellington and Northland. People said “no’’ to those proposals but many in these communities put forward alternatives and others said they wanted some changes to enable better local government. Local government has understood the messages being sent by their communities in these regions and since the announcements last month there has been strong interest in working together to determine what steps need to be taken. The Commission intends to support and encourage this progress in every way possible.
For both the Northland and Wellington regions, we want to build on the changes councils have already made to how they work and make decisions together, and share resources and expertise. We want to build on the momentum for change and knowledge gained through the processes to date. With the councils in each region we will look at the transport, water, spatial and land-use planning, and economic development functions to better understand how those functions impact on the region. Together with councils, iwi and the community we will then work to identify what might need to change to create a stronger economy, modern infrastructure, resilient communities, and improved services.
If our joint investigations in either region indicate the best solutions can only be achieved through legislation, the Minister has said she will support this.
In both Wellington and Northland, we would like to have to new proposals for change ready within 12 months, sooner if possible.
We will be asking the councils in Northland and Wellington to help us figure out the best ways to talk with and seek feedback from their communities.
For Hawke’s Bay, the process is now in the hands of the people of the region who will decide on their local government future through the poll that takes place between 24 August and 15 September. If the majority support the Commission’s proposal, a new Hawkes Bay council would be elected in October 2016.
What does it mean for the rest of local government in NZ?
The Commission is currently considering whether to accept reorganisation applications from North Rodney and the West Coast.
I hear talk about other areas actively considering changes. This is good. It is clear to me from the Minister’s speech she expects all councils to be looking at whether their current approaches cohesively and strategically support economic growth across the region. There are many changes councils in a region can be making to themselves independent of the Commission or the formal reorganisation process that are beyond sharing services or close relationships. For example, single district plans, joint governance of key functions, and CCOs.
To support any change work councils will be doing, over the next few months, the Commission will be providing you with information about different options you have for changing local government in your region.
Our door is open. We are keen to help regions find innovative and creative solutions for better local government. If you are considering change in your region, I encourage you to approach myself, fellow Commissioners Janie or Leigh, or Chief Executive Sandra Preston for a chat.
Nāku noa, nā
Chair, Local Government Commission
On 9 June, the Commissioners announced their decision to release a modified draft Hawke’s Bay proposal as a Final Proposal. On 11 June, a petition was received requesting a poll on the proposal. On 18 June the Commission notified the affected councils that it had set 15 September as polling day for the proposal. On 23 June, the Commission released a Poll process update setting out further details of the electoral process. Polling takes place over a three-week period prior to 15 September, with first voting papers due to be delivered on 24 August. Voting ends at midday on 15 September and all votes must arrive by this time. Advertising restrictions in relation to the poll are prescribed in legislation and the Commission has distributed Guidelines to relevant parties.
If 50 per cent or more vote “no’’ to the amalgamation proposal, the process ends and the status quo prevails. If more than 50 per cent vote “yes’’, transition arrangements are triggered. These include the establishment of a transition body comprising a transition board and an implementation team. The transition board will consist of 11 people, two elected members of each of the five affected councils and an independent chair appointed by the Local Government Commission. The implementation team is sourced from the staff of the former authorities, and is appointed by the Commission. Further details can be found on pages 31 and 32 of the Final Proposal
Twenty-three councils are required to review their representation arrangements this year. Many of those councils are well into the process. If there are appeals or objections to a council’s proposal, the Local Government Commission gets involved and makes the final decision. The Commission normally holds a hearing attended by the council, appellants and objectors, after which it makes its determination. Determinations must be made by 10 April 2016, in time to be implemented for the 2016 local elections.
The Commission farewells outgoing Chair Basil Morrison and Commissioner Anne Carter. Mr Morrison and Ms Carter, who have each served four years, have worked diligently and brought a wealth of experience and wisdom to their roles in helping New Zealanders achieve better local government. The Commission wishes them well in their respective futures.
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