Important Dates & Events

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill - Submission

This bill nearly kept below the radar because it isn't specifically about Auckland. It applies throughout New Zealand but has very significant implications in the way it changes the democratic process in our local government. Our thanks to Peter Aimer for preparing the following (Submission Ref PJEI67R) for us:

Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill

Submission on behalf of the Campbells Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association.

To: Local Government and Environment Select Committee

As a local community organisation representing the residents and ratepayer living in the Campbells Bay (North Shore, Auckland) district, our primary focus is on the opportunities for people in the community to articulate local concerns, and the channels to do so within the framework of local government structures and processes. As a community group, we are also aware of the vast array of services and benefits deriving from active local government.

Consequently, there is much in the LGA 2002 Amendment Bill that we cannot support. There are two areas of particular concern to us: first, specific clauses of the Bill diminish the requirement of local governments to consult with their communities. Secondly, the range of activities within the ambit of local government is constrained by the Bill's prescriptive list of 'core services'. This emphasis on 'core services', which smacks of a 'one size fits all' approach, will greatly reduce the potential for local governments in different areas to respond to the different demands and needs of their communities.

While the Bill's general aim of improving 'transparency, accountability, and financial management' are laudable in the abstract, it is not clear that the substantive clauses of the Bill always promote these aims; or, indeed, that the Bill's aims and means are consistent with each other. How, for example, do fewer opportunities for citizens to have a say in the on-going processes of local government improve accountability?

Arising from these general remarks, we make the following recommendations:

(1) Clauses affecting consultation and engagement with the community:

Clause 4: we oppose this as it removes the opportunity for community input into a Council's identification of community outcomes, provided for in s91 of the original Act.

Clause 8: we oppose deletion of all four stages of consultation and recommend retaining two stages, viz s78 (2) (a) and (c) in the original Act.

Clause 11: we oppose this as it has the effect of freeing a Council from the obligation (s88 of the Act) to consult before changing 'the mode of delivery of significant activities', i.e. despite the acknowledged importance of such 'activities', it diminishes the role of citizens in the guiding of a Council's decisions.

Clause 12: we oppose this because the deletion of s91 and s92 reduces the opportunity for local voices to influence the pursuit of community outcomes.

Clause 14: we oppose this as removing items required to be included in the long-term council community plan also reduces the scope of public input into Council decisions.

Clause 16: we support the inclusion of new s99A introducing pre-election reports 'to provide information to promote public discussion about the issues facing the local authority', as these are consistent with our concern for a robust community role in the functioning of local government.

Clauses 31 & 32: we oppose these as they permit the contracting out of water services for up to 35 years, thus in effect privatising a vital public resource, which further reduces the scope for democratic participation in an important issue within the sphere of local government, and one which will become even more a major concern for communities.

Clause 47 and Schedule 2: which 'amend the principal Act to change the name of a long-term council community plan to long-term plan and to make other consequential amendments'. We are opposed to any consequential lessening of a Council's statutory requirement to engage with the community, as specified for example in s75 (c) oft he Act.

(2) Clauses relating to the scope of local government:

Clause 5: we oppose this as the listing of 'core services' is both prescriptive and limiting when in practice the activities of local governments extend, and are expected to extend, beyond the five categories named.

Clause 6: we oppose this addition to s14 'Principles relating to local authorities' as it has the effect of narrowing a Council's judgement of what is a justifiable investment. We believe the normal processes of political accountability are a sufficient constraint on a Council's decisions, along with the original Act's requirement that 'commercial transactions' should follow 'sound business practices'.

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