Bennett on local government

A good speech by to the LGNZ Conference. Some extracts:

I imagine there are some who think that because the Commission has decided to take large reorganisation off the table for greater Wellington and Northland, and because I have clearly stated I will not legislate for large amalgamation that you can all continue as you have.

Well you can’t.

It is not in the best interests of the people of New Zealand.

We simply have to look at growth across a region, and your current structure does not strategically or cohesively support that.

A clear message the status quo is not acceptable.

They are going to work alongside you and your communities to ensure that we have the right structure, legally, financially, and with the right accountabilities to ensure sustainable growth in our towns and cities.

This might mean a CCO on water or transport across a region.

It could mean a different business structure or increased responsibilities and accountabilities for Regional Councils.

It could even mean in areas that might put a number of CCOs in place for key growth and infrastructure that there is no longer a need for a Regional Council.

Some councils may even choose to amalgamate.

I fully understand and accept that one solution will not work across all of New Zealand.

That is why the Commission will be working up various structure options for each region to look at and decide what works best for them, and then where necessary I will legislate to either set a new CCO up across a region – or even to take something away.

And in case there was any doubt:

I have zero interest in imposing unwanted change on you.

But you know that our regions are not as cohesive as they need to be to support our challenges and our future growth.

So I implore you to do something about it.

Be brave – own the change and both the Commission and I will do everything we can to assist and support you.

But let me be clear – there will be change.

Good.

The Government is aware of the cost pressures many councils face, and the Funding Review document launched this morning shows you are thinking about different mechanisms to manage growth.

Structural change should be one of them.

This is a conversation worth having, but first and foremost local government needs to demonstrate that it can live within its means.

Ratepayers are not willing to pay more for services while they see waste.

Most Councils seem to have little fiscal discipline. If they can show some fiscal discipline, then I’m for looking at expanding their funding tools beyond rates.

I expect you to look closely at your costs and have free and frank conversations about what is driving your expenditure and whether that discretionary spend is assisting your council to achieve its strategic goals. 

This is exactly what the Government has been doing, with our Better Public Service targets driving a more integrated delivery of services in a way that gets results and saves taxpayers’ money.

Wouldn’t it be great if local Councils did that also – commit to actual specific outcomes from the money they spend, rather than just outputs?

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