Written By: - Date published: 7:02 am, June 25th, 2012 - 41 comments
Categories: accountability, community democracy, democracy under attack, local government, national, privatisation - Tags: david carter, nick smith
National’s record on local government is horrific: the lack of consultation as they rammed through the Supercity; the canning of ECAN, and continued suspension of democracy in Canterbury; the pushing of asset sales on an unwilling Christchurch.
And their latest attack – the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill – will do significant damage to local democracy.
The Bill has been created out of an invented crisis, as is Nick Smith’s way. He produced “figures” to show significant costs have arisen from changes which required Councils to take account of the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of their communities. The figures then had to be hastily removed from the “Better Local Government” document online a few days after its release – and replaced by a comment from Department of Internal Affairs saying “There are issues with the data both in terms of accuracy and in terms of the picture that was being given for some Councils.”
In fact proper statistics show the problem to not be as National suggest at all. Rates growth was cited as the biggest increase in inflation in recent times; in reality it is behind gas, petrol, real estate agent fees and building insurance among others. And gas and petrol being high on the list is significant – a major cost for councils is the bitumen of our roads, which like all oils has massively increased in price over the last 10 years (91%).
Rates generally have increased along with household spending – staying at 2.25% of household spending for quite some time now. Hardly out of control. Indeed New Zealand has the lowest gathering of funds at a regional level in the entire OECD. And any attempt to alter that in the form of regional petrol taxes, congestion charges etc has been vetoed by National: keen to keep local government on a short leash, dependent on central government – not local opinion – for major projects.
Nick Smith has of course been moved on due to the ACC scandal, and this is now David Carter’s Bill. But their other big bogey was local council debt.
Once again, the statistics don’t match the rhetoric.
In fact only a very few councils have a debt problem. While citing the likes of Kaipara District Council serves National’s agenda, they are isolated cases. The international standard across the OECD is that local governments should have <10% of expenditure on debt servicing. The New Zealand average? 4.53%
Even most of those councils who have had big increases in debt in recent years have had good reason too. They are high population growth areas, rapidly building large amounts of infrastructure to prepare for their increased size, as they should. The higher population in coming years will pay the rates needed to pay back the debt on the infrastructure they are then using.
I’ll write more about National’s plans for Local Government and the problems they cause, removing local control of local decisions, tomorrow. In the meantime you may wish to take in the view of Christine Cheyne, Massey Assoc Prof of Planning, or Rod Oram, or the CEO of Palmerston North City Council.
The Local Government Bill – like so much controversial National legislation – is now being rushed through parliament; trying to get passed without sufficient scrutiny and attention, lest it have time to breed unpopularity and become another policy millstone. If you’d like to submit on the bill, Labour have created an easy website for you to have your say: http://www.labour.org.nz/localgovernment