Today I attended a meeting of the GDC Community Development Committee. Councillors Aston, Balud, Cranston, Haisman and Poananga were present and the meeting was chaired by Cnr Hikawai. I was impressed by the passion and commitment of the Councillors – and pleasantly surprised to hear both Cnr Bauld and Haisman arguing strongly in favour of Council involvement with social development issues. The worm has certainly turned – at last! 

I was unsettled however by the poor analysis of issues raised and the subsequent limited ability of those present to debate the more important questions that would enable a much more effective discussion on the specifics they were worried about.

Local leaders need to be able to strategically, to get their heads out of some of the detail and think about the big picture. Part of the struggle that the Councillors faced today was that there is still no agreement about exactly what role GDC should have in ensuring positive social development happens in the region. All of them agree it should be something but no agreement has been reached on exactly what that responsibility involves or does not involve.

GDC have a Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) that has high level ‘Community Outcomes’ attached to existing Council activities rather than having Council activities flowing out of and contributing to those Community Outcomes. The process for determining these Outcomes was not participatory or transparent – they were rushed through and the community has barely any knowledge of what the words are, let alone ownership of the concepts and activities connected to them.

GDC also rushed up, and approved for inclusion at the last Annual Planning round, a Social Policy that is badly worded, illogical and quite unhelpful if not actually counter-productive to positive community development. The policy had no proper public consultation before it was inserted for adoption as part of the LTCCP Review and Annual Plan process. A few submissions gave qualified support based on the premise that ‘something is better than nothing’ – but I disagree.

Now we have a bad statement in place that has set the foundation for anything else to be built upon – it pre-empted and excluded any preferences from the wider community of what should be included and commits GDC to a bland nothingness that means they still don’t know what role and responsibilities the Council should have in relation to social development and key stakeholders in the total wellbeing of the community.

What we need urgently is:

1. a robust communiyt-led review of the Social Policy – my preference would be to start from scratch – but now that something is there the community will probably be expected to start with that.

2. a similar review of the LTCCP Community Outcomes that is based within a real community enagement process to elicit views and ensure ownership of the Community Outcomes and a clear understanding and agreement on what they actually mean to everyone in the community.

3. to have people sitting around Council tables who do not think that advocating to Police a ‘Zero Tolerance’ to crime as the most effective thing we can do to reduce and eventually eliminate the brutal assaults on children, women and men that happen every day in our neighbourhoods. Yes we need good enforcement of the law, but much more importantly we need good social cohesion, neighbours who know and care about each other, children who are taught basic social skills, young parents who are supported by elders in the community and so on. Preventative measures are desperately needed and local government has a key role to play in taking leadership on these issues – not to provide more services or funding – but to lead the design of local that engage and mobilise ALL of the community resources available in each locality.

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