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Nick Walmsley gave us his Viewpoint this evening and said,

'There is much disgruntlement over what local councils achieve, their cost and efficiency of task completion.

'As defined in the Local Government Act 2002, the purpose of local government is: 

  • to enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities; and 
  • to promote the well-being of those communities in the present and for the future. 

'The Act gives councils wide scope to do anything within the context of local government.

'Currently, councils are governed by well-meaning but often technically ignorant councillors voted in based on personal likes. They can make their own local rules and infrastructure standards. There is little in the way of national watchdog organisations to ensure they maintain recognised standards.

  • National reviews have consistently shown that few councils have fully functional asset management plans and even fewer fund the consequential asset depreciation. Until recently no-one seemed to care.
  • Many years of discussion over 3-waters infrastructure has, at last, resulted in a regional, not local organisational approach, although details are still being worked out parochially.
  • Roading has already partly followed that path.
  • Solid waste management and recycling initiatives have long asked for more national consistency. For example, use of organic wastes on productive land and types of plastic recycled still differ up and down the country. 

'Some years ago I gave community evidence against council at a resource consent hearing. One of my points was that the District Plan was originally a document written in plain English which allowed the average educated citizen to understand common rules to follow in support of community standards. Nowadays it is difficult to present a case without a resource consent professional or lawyer in the team to interpret the rules. The Barrister commissioner agreed with me but noted that, unfortunately, the bureaucracy had moved on.

'More recently I met with Council professionals to persuade them to alter practices that demonstrably did not serve their community well. They agreed with me and that what I wanted was indeed “best practice” but wasn’t a legal requirement and would take up too much of their time. Therefore, they would not change their behaviour.

'We have a growing number of community boards to input local viewpoints into council decision-making. Does this suggest that the councils are no longer directly in touch with areas of their community? Wasn’t that their prime purpose?

'We are a relatively small nation of 5M split into 67 councils all with different standards. Why so many? Why not more national standards for provision of the basics of community life i.e. power, water, transport, health services, solid waste management, and have technically competent and public watchdogs to ensure these standards are provided? Leave the purely local community issues with local councils; such as social support, library, community education, parks and reserves,

My point of view: It is time to review the purpose and authority of local councils and how the community knows their services are provided effectively and efficiently.'

The authority of local councils - 14 September 2021

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