Mr Hide should probably stick to dancing. There are certainly some problems with the current system but his proposed changes to the Local Government Act would ironically create more centralisation, bigger bureaucracy, less efficiencies and more complex problems both nationally and at a local level.
Rather than saying local authorities should stay away from social development, what we actually need is local control over central government resources. When funds are managed from Wellington at best we get a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to addressing local social, economic and environmental issues.
We need to develop a vision for local government that is just that, local accountability and local responsibility for addressing our own issues here. To do this we need to reduce the control central government has over our taxes and bring the decision-making back here where we know what we need and how best to create positive change that is durable and effective.
A good example is the gangs issue. Last year we had senior officials from Police and the Ministry of Social Development convene a meeting of community stakeholders to discuss the issue of gangs in Gisborne. The meeting was held, people presented their concerns and solutions and we have heard nothing since. The managers who convened the meeting (and have both since left their respective roles) are accountable to senior officials in Wellington who hold the public purse strings. And we have no way to make them do their job while families in our neighbourhoods continue to suffer!
The Tairawhiti Development Partnership is a good idea in terms of local governance between councils and iwi authorities. Unfortunately the Partnership has never realised its potential in terms of social and economic development, mostly because it has little if any say over central government resourcing. This resourcing is tied up in nationally designed programmes and new initiatives that are ‘announced’ every year to keep politicians looking like they do something useful. Councils don’t have to provide services, but by coordinating central government investment in the region in partnership with iwi authorities they can ensure resources are being directed to where the need is greatest And, in this way, they can ensure that real change is happening.
Developing a set of locally agreed outcomes about what kind of place we want to live in and what kind of change needs to happen for that vision to be realised, is an important function of local government, including iwi authorities. However, we are yet to see an inclusive process used to identify a local vision and as a result have not got a clear set of outcomes we all ‘own’ as a community. This is largely because local authorities haven’t had the capacity, capability or commitment to facilitate the kind of whole community processes required. The Tairawhiti Development Taskforce got close when it was initially set-up but quickly retreated to a small group that has not maintained meaningful communication with the wider community about what they are doing and why.
I agree with Mr Hide that there is a need for a clearer delineation of central and local government roles. Central government should resource local authorities to build local knowledge about local needs and priorities and then assign resources to address new and existing needs as determined by local authorities. Members of the Gisborne District Council should be thinking very carefully about what they would like our Chief Executive Officer and Local Government New Zealand to be saying during the public-excluded consultation process and should invite public comment on the issue before the Department of Internal Affairs undertake the consultation.
Do we want to see our water, library and parks privatised? I think not. Do we want to be told by Wellington policy analysts and funding managers what we need here? I think not. Do we want to take responsibility for local issues locally? I think so.