Local Government New Zealand and law firm Simpson Grierson have just carried out a survey of what mayors and chairs of local councils think are the major issues facing their communities and councils.
The report they have produced is called Taking the pulse of Local Government in New Zealand – A report on the issues concerning Mayors and Chairs.
Sixty-two mayors and chairs of rural, provincial, metropolitan and regional councils throughout New Zealand responded.
That is about an 80 per cent response rate.
There are seven key findings.
The mayors and chairs were asked to identify their top three issues.
Economic growth and job creation are by far the most important concerns for mayors and chairs (84 per cent).
Forty-six per cent said environmental impact and sustainability; 40 per cent said rates affordability; 30 per cent said population change (growth or decline); 22 per cent said local government reorganisation; 22 per cent said transport, infrastructure and funding; 14 per cent said natural event preparedness; 11 per cent said perceived value of local government; 9 per cent said water resources and management; and 5 per cent said housing affordability.
The economic growth and job creation priority shouldn’t be a surprise.
While the Ashburton economy continues to perform, a significant number of other New Zealand districts are struggling with growth, unemployment and in some cases, with population decline.
Funding limitations (66 per cent) and the consistency of central government policy making (61 per cent) are seen as the biggest impediments councils face in achieving the results mayors and chairs want for their communities.
While the Government’s new purpose statement in the Local Government Act does not make progressing initiatives easier (72 per cent), most felt it did not constrain councils either (74 per cent). As such, you could ask what the change to the purpose statement has actually achieved?
Mayors and chairs in the majority of cases think that the roles of their governing bodies and management are clearly understood (84 per cent) and correctly balanced (92 per cent).
That is good to know, but of course we should be a little bit worried about the 16 per cent that said the respective roles within their councils were not clearly defined and understood.
What does that say about the functioning of their councils?
Housing affordability is a national election issue, but there was a strong view that it is not an issue best solved by local government (84 per cent). Many mayors and chairs see the problem solely concerning Auckland and other metropolitan areas.
There are four local government reorganisation applications (possible amalgamations of councils) being considered by the Local Government Commission at the moment. These are viewed as having little community support (79 per cent) and thought unlikely to bring economic benefits (63 per cent).
The New Zealand Transport Agency was viewed as making the most effective central government contribution to local government (46 per cent). That may well be because of the NZTA’s co-investment funding of local roads.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment follows on 18 per cent; Department of Internal Affairs (10 per cent); Office of the Auditor-General (10 per cent); Local Government and Environment Select Committee (5 per cent); Ministry for the Environment (4 per cent); and Other (7 per cent).
The full report can be found on the Simpson Grierson website, www.simpsongrierson.com