First, local government is controlled and directed by central government. The Auckland Council inherited 109 statutory functions. It’s no longer the mayor and the town clerk looking after the parks and collecting the rubbish. There’s been no rationalisation of function.
Second, the all-important spend on infrastructure is controlled by central government. It decides everything that matters. It sets the rules, issues the directives and dollops out the cash.
Third, local government is used as an instrument of national policy. For example, council governance is increasingly set by Treaty of Waitangi settlements and policy directives are delivered from on high on matters as diverse as aquaculture and land supply. There’s a continuous stream overwhelming local government.
Fourth, councils lack party structure and discipline. The mayor can only ever count on one vote. They are leaders in name only. They can’t campaign on clear policy. They can only do what their council decides.
Fifth, the power and flow of information resides with the chief executive. There is little competing advice as with, say, the cabinet with multiple departments having input as well as oversight departments such as the Treasury and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Sixth, the CEO is all-powerful but councils have poor information on which to judge performance and little incentive to hold CEOs to account. My observation is that successful mayors back the CEO no matter what – and vice versa. It’s not healthy.
Seventh, there is no constitutional limit on local government and no constitutional protection of local government from central government. Local government is government in name only.
He proposes some solutions, in decreasing order of radicalness:
One, stop the pretence and make a department of state responsible for all local government functions. The country would be divided up into regions with commissioners appointed to run the 109 functions. Central government would be held to account, as it should be.
Not a fan of this for local government, but am for DHBs. They are funded by central government and shouldk be run by them.
Two, carve the country up into five local council jurisdictions, have elected councils and have regular cabinet committee meetings with councils to develop and implement joint infrastructure plans.
Has some merit.
Three, limit the activities of local government to core tasks.
Big fan of this.
Four, establish clear constitutional understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of central and local government.
Easier said than done but worthwhile
Five, have the State Services Commissioner appoint and fire council CEOs with councillors having the same input ministers provide for departmental heads. That would provide a big boost in performance and accountability.
Not a bad option.