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Bye bye Local Government

Written By: - Date published: 7:02 am, June 25th, 2012 - 41 comments
Categories: accountability, community democracy, democracy under attack, local government, national, privatisation - Tags: ,

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

41 comments on “Bye bye Local Government”

  1. MrSmith 1

    And don’t forget Nationals so called Environmental Protection Authority which can already over ride your district plan with no right of appeal. Big Government coming to a town near you. 

  2. vto 2

    In my opinion this National government is the most untrustworthy ever.

    They are a bunch of wide-boys and snake-oil salesmen. It is impossible to believe anything they say. They are like the sleaziest secondhand car salesman you can find. You always wonder what the true motive is behind their claims. You always wonder how much actual truth stands under each and every statement.

    They are liars.



    At least Clark et al did not have this characteristic. This lot are total sleazeballs.

    • Carol 2.1


      Charlatans all, who don’t give a fig for democracy, or anyone but the most affluent Kiwis and international corporates.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.2

      In my opinion this National government is the most untrustworthy ever.

      I think they’re perfectly trustworthy – they can always be trusted to work in the favour of themselves and their rich mates and against the welfare of NZ.

      They don’t tell us that of course as that would require them telling the truth and they know that they’d never get voted in to work that theft/fraud/malfeasance if they did that.

  3. They always talk about events as a major driver of rates increases but as Ben correctly identifies the major cost increases are in the provision and maintenance of infrastructure.

    If this legislation is passed events out west like the Christmas Festival in the park will be no more.  This is a very modestly priced enjoyable occasion made possible by a group of dedicated individuals.  It attracts thousands and the cost per westie is probably in the vicinity of 20c per year.

    If you stop these sorts of events from being held then our community will be much the poorer for this. 

    • Carol 3.1

      Indeed. Such provisions are part of the heart of a community and its social glue. They should be easily available to all.

      But I guess, NAct would rather have them taken over by private business so they can make money off them (more than 20c for all per year), thus exclude those that can’t afford them.

    • tc 3.2

      yes but communities can be pesky annoying bodies that try and hold elected individuals to account, another calculated measure to undermine and fracture them is classic NACT tactics.

      • Draco T Bastard 3.2.1


        Strong communities are always a threat to dictatorships.

        • TheContrarian

          Still on that “New Zealand is a dictatorship” line despite being unable to provide any evidence of it outside of “because I think so” are you Draco?

          • ad

            It’s hard to gauge how weak or strong your democracy is until you try and stop something those in power have decided to do. Have you had any experience in that area?

            • TheContrarian

              “It’s hard to gauge how weak or strong your democracy is until you try and stop something those in power have decided to do.”

              education reform back down
              The recent mining is schedule 4 lands back down

              2 recent examples. 

              • ad

                They are both spectacular recent wins for activism.

                I wonder if Draco is proposing not that there is a dictatorship operating in New Zealand, but rather that the local government reform proposed weakens the capacity to oppose the state?

                I guess my experience about local government is that on the ground it has immense power, but when it comes to opposing central government its powers have been awkward at best and are getting weaker.

              • Colonial Viper

                Lets make more examples out of this hard headed slow learning National Govt.

    • higherstandard 3.3

      “It attracts thousands and the cost per westie is probably in the vicinity of 20c per year.”

      Why don’t you make it pay for itself then in terms of donations from those who attend or the option of paying additional funds with rates ?

      I’m not saying such events are bad things but they are not core council responsibility much as the council owned recreation centres around town they should be self funding from entrance fees and memberships rather than a rates expense.

      • millsy 3.3.1

        what about parks and libraries?

        • higherstandard

          Publicly owned parks and libraries can be used on a continual basis by the community (within reason) so provide an excellent service. I do note however that soccer, rugby, league and cricket clubs who use public parks all pay not insignificant fees to council to do so.

      • Carol 3.3.2

        Because such things are a community good. i.e. they add to the sum value of the whole society for the benefit of all in that society, and is not just of benefit to those who directly access the event/service. That is partly due to the way such things operate to develop community spirit and social cohesion.

        User-pays/donates also invites exclusions, deserving/undeserving poor etc., and indicates a very narrow, short-term view of social/cultural provisions.

        • higherstandard

          Carol they are no different from the concerts in the park and the parades up and down Queen Street and fireworks at New Years if you want to use that kind of justification we’d be having community funded parades and get togethers every second day along with the attendant department full of bureaucrats at the council.

          • Kotahi Tane Huna

            No, we wouldn’t.

          • Carol

            Parades etc are usually once a year. I also had in mind rec centres, libraries, parks etc….. all contribute to social cohesion. User-pays for such services is based on an inaccurate idea of the worth of such things.

            • higherstandard

              I’ve got no issue with parks and libraries and recreation centres/rooms Carol these are core council services and responsibilities as I said above to some extent outside of libraries these are user pays with sports clubs and members paying fees.

              • ad

                Do you have a list of things that Local Government should do?

                • higherstandard

                  No, do you ?

                  • ad

                    I guess that’s the point I thought you’d get to, pretty quickly. Harder to move from the instinctive certainty to the more apparently marginal spends.

                    National also tried a couple of years ago to define the core public service, and failed. It also failed to define its core values, although it gave it a good go.

                    In Auckland’s Local Government reforms, they tried to define what Local Boards would do. They did a terrible job of it that it has generated a little industry of its own.

                    It’s always slippery on the margins to decide what to spend money on, which for all its faults is the democratic opportunity provided by the Long Term Plan and Regional Land Transport Plan. Council is required, unlike central Government, to make every single major spending line open to public submissions before the budget is struck.

                    Central government currently refuses to recognise that this small state and its entire social and capitalist order is utterly intertwined with the public sector, both central and local. Undo that, and undo the economy.

        • prism

          It’s so dispiriting to see all the amenities that one expects in a vital, modern, educated open society being pared back. I thought growing up that these were public goods that would go on being provided because we had become an advanced, thinking, forward-thinking society.

          This talk of closing down libraries etc. is the sort of thing that money-mad and the wealthy do. They are too busy getting money, trying to both spend and keep it and making more on top to read except for ideas on how to make money and perhaps cook some new dish with exotic ingredients. That seems to be the thing now. But fiction bah and non-fiction – okay if you have time.

          No wonder that in Readers Digest poll the most trusted people are sportspeople rugby and netball I think. The most important thing in NZ – sport, it’s tops now and people racing round a track or court are cutting out the popularity of horse racing in NZ. Bring back the beautiful horses and train people to focus on how we can keep NZ a good place with lots of business, workable ideas, and jobs for the future not returning to the pre-industrial and industrial age and the mining, extractive types.

    • lostinsuburbia 3.4

      The other reason that debt is going up so much is that conservative Councils, like those in Auckland, have been defering the replacement of expensive infrastructure. And now time is running out to do the replacements.

      Also, its rare for developers to pay the full cost of servicing their own developments (e.g. paying for new roads, pipes etc), leaving the rest of us to subsidise their profits. And woe any Council that tries to change that – the NACTS don’t want their buddies to be out of pocket.

      Also Council’s are given limited abilities to raise the funds to do their functions – and again the Government tries to stifle debate if any local authorities try and bring up other possible sources of revenue e.g. regional fuel taxes.

      • tc 3.4.1

        Like all the infrastructure work going on around Ellerslie racecourse paid for by Ratepayers that’s of course in no way connected to the re-development for housing removing the steple chase track, lollipops/montesorri school etc and lining akl racing club’s pockets.

        Water/waste that can now have can alot of extra residences connected at no cost from the developer….funny that.

        • Herodotus

          5 years ago a water connection cost $500 and the water supply contribution was a few $000 per hectare, now watercare charge $7k. So cost have increased 1000% I agree someone is not paying their way but be careful who you point the finger at.

      • prism 3.4.2

        Also Council’s are given limited abilities to raise the funds to do their functions
        How come Dunedin managed to push though their expensive stadium against opposition that was reasonable not just the usual moans of people who don’t want any rate rise?

        • mike e

          Prism Dunedin’s apathy less than 50% of voters turned out .
          the only mayoral candidate who was against the stadium was not very popular because he is a former ACT candidate.
          He made a lot of faux pas i.e. Dunedinites should vote national.

          • prism

            mik e
            Politics is sure complicated? Once again I get that certainty that we need to learn problem solving, starting in primary.. Otherwise trying to get through all the conflicting hidden elements involved when trying for good political decisions as opposed to self-enrichment and power can never be understood much less overcome.

        • darkhorse

          Because a whole lot of people lied about the costs and the funding sources including council staff, because Bill English (The Loser) topped it up by $15Million but couldn’t find a cent to help Hillside build our rail fleet and gave the work to China instead and because Audit NZ is a toothless tiger and won’t do anything about anyone in local government or elsewhere acting with blatant impunity for breaches of proper process.

      • Herodotus 3.4.3

        Not sure were you are comming from as developers develop new roads waste water, pay for streetlighting parks and are now constructing and paying for motorway off ramps, new roads and development contributions So why does. Counc get from a developer brand spanking new infrastructure maintaince of this for a year and an increased rating base.

    • prism 3.5

      the community will be much the poorer and sadder than it is now. We can’t all go to Hawaii or even the Cook Islands. Some people don’t have holidays as such, but if they can get to a concert for a reasonable price, that’s great. It allows them to feel part of society able to enjoy a few things that others have lots of. Don’t stop concerts, buskers, sports where people go to have fun (and don’t take to opposing team families leaving someone with a knife sticking in them as happened this weekend.)

      The one thing I think we should save money on is to stop having fireworks just because there is some ordinary happening like a date that we happen to think is propitious. Like, oh its the 1st January, the first day in the Year of the Weasel. If we want to celebrate with fireworks let some off when we have done some useful mind stuff and celebrate this new breakthrough or when we have hatched the ten thousandth kiwi or such.

  4. millsy 4

    This bill is nothing less than a transfer of wealth to wealthy home and business owners.

    Faced with pressure to keep rates down, councils will cut the parks, libaries and sportsgrounds (not the flash rugby stadiums, but the grounds used by the local soccer club), facilities that are incidentally used largely by those on low incomes.

  5. Bored 5

    Indonesia, Indonesia, Indonesia….wonderful place, woefully few public parks, libraries, public services etc, wonderful example of leaving it all to free enterprise and the market. And just so some sectors of our community can have an extra few percentage banked in their accounts we would be like that. And the scumbags already have money they cant spend. But hey, whats an extra few grand a rich man cant spend when it means the prols out there cant have it either?.

    • mike e 5.1

      Economics 101
      nactionauf a complete failure’
      Clark and Cullen recognized that how to you grow your economy is to start at a local level.
      National are killing off local councils ability to invest at a local level.
      Dumb and Dumber
      conmankey and dipstick

  6. You will find the real issue with rates rises is that they reflect the real rate of inflation that is occurring within the NZ economy. Very little of the spending is in the truly gratuitous (stadiums and such like) category. Rate increases are driven by materials increases. Most councils spend much of their rate take on energy for running public buildings, building and maintaining roads and water and sewer. There is little frivolity in most councils budgets. Other things such as government driven increases in the standards for drinking water (which is based on a blatant falsehood regarding how allegedly unsafe our public water supplies are) Sewer system upgrades and a large backlog of maintenance on the networks also come into it.

    The real problem is not that your rates are going up but that this government is making you poorer.

    The Consumer Price Index is a fiction. You only need to go to the super market to see that for yourself.

    You local council is just a convenient bogeyman for this government to distract you with. Most councils do a better job of owning and maintaining assets on your behalf than this government could ever do.

    • prism 6.1

      the CPI is a fiction. Is that because it doesn’t relate to house prices? And that it’s an average of the things tested so it may not be relevant to some sectors of society that aren’t involved in some trading?

      The unemployment figures are a fiction too as I understand them. They make a statement of percentages in work, which the average public expect would relate to reality, but they count everybody who works for one hour or more. Is that right?

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