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Investing in Community Wellbeing - Maharey Speech

Hon. Steve Maharey
11 July 2000 Speech Notes

Investing in Community Wellbeing – a partnership approach

Address to the Local Government New Zealand Conference Community Well-being Stream Theory Into Practice Session. Christchurch Convention Centre.

Introduction

Over the last decade, 'Community' seemed to become a dirty word. In fact, 'community' practically disappeared from policy makers lexicon, as they attributed every benefit or every ill to the individual or the family.

It seemed, during the 1990's, that community didn't matter any more. Individuals could choose to rise above or sink below. Where you lived; the health and well-being of your community was unimportant. And the orthodox New Zealand view was, "strengthen the individual, or at the broadest span the family, and all will be well".

Did it work? Of course it didn't.

Community well-being does matter. Where you live impacts on your health, your chances of finding a job, your educational environment, and your chances of becoming a victim of crime, to name but a few.

Graphic examples can be seen in unemployment figures. While the overall unemployment rate in September 1999 was sitting at 6.6%, the regional range was 5 – 8.8%. In other words life was almost twice as bad in the most employment poor region compared with the most employment rich.

And of course if you drill down further into regions you find pockets of advantage and disadvantage.

An English study looking at unemployment rates in council wards within Sheffield demonstrated this effect. Not only did the study show unemployment by ward varied from 4 to 22%, but a retrospective analysis demonstrated that unemployment had increased most in the wards that had previously shouldered the greatest burden. Over twenty years, unemployment in the richest ward had increased only 1%, whereas in the poorest ward unemployment had risen 14% from an already high base.

Dynamics such as these feed a cycle of disadvantage and social exclusion. Certain geographic or cultural communities bear the heaviest burden of unemployment, poor housing, and poor health. In these circumstances educational attainment starts to slip, consigning the next generation to spiralling unemployment.

And with chronic unemployment comes a generation of people without hope or direction.

We pay for our failures in youth suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, and social breakdown.

Every member of the community suffers as their quality of life declines, shops and services close, and the heart goes out of the community.

It is time we face the hard facts and acknowledge past failures.

When problems become entrenched a sticking plaster solution, whether it be a short family based intervention, or a employment motivation course, is never going to be enough in isolation.

Nor will complex regional or sub-regional issues necessarily be responsive to nationally determined solutions.

We see evidence of this mismatch in the growing disparities between Maori and Pacific people and other New Zealanders, and in the fact that some regions of the country still bear the brunt of health, education and welfare disadvantage.

These are some of the biggest issues we face as a nation.

And it is clear that we have pursued 'one size fits all' and 'Wellington knows best' approaches for too long.

It is time to reassess our strategies and take a new direction.

This is why this Government is passionate about working in partnership with Maori and Pacific people, with local Government and with other community leaders to ensure that all New Zealanders enjoy access to opportunities.

And the word is partnership. This Government will not abrogate responsibilities nor will we seek to devolve all accountability. Local solutions to local issues should never mean that Government has wiped it's hands, and walked away.

What we seek to build is cooperative partnerships where the best of 'joined-up Government' and local thinking and resources are brought to bear.

Partnership Case studies

I would like to talk about a couple of concrete examples in my portfolios where we are turning 'Theory into Practice' in partnership with regions or local communities.

Opotiki Development Project

The first is a project dear to the heart of the Chairman of this session: the Opotiki Development Project.

The Opotiki Development Project offers an interesting example. Interesting because it was somewhat surprisingly initiated under the last Government (perhaps simply proving the persuasive power of the local Mayor), and because – as I understand – it demonstrates some of the challenges and rewards of a partnership approach.

ODP draws together financial support from various Government agencies and Local Government resources.

The goals of the project are to:

Improve the social and economic well-being of the Opotiki people; and
To create a community / government joint partnership model.

The Project is supported by a central Government group representing sponsoring agencies.

And it is managed locally by an Opotiki based management group.

The local group includes representatives of the Opotiki business community, Iwi, the Mayor as chairperson and local representatives of Government agencies.

Now I have seen a summary of some of the activities of the Project, but as even this ran to some six pages it is impossible to give anything more than a flavour of what is happening.

I would however like to mention activities such as
 the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Project that employed 11 people retrofitting insulation to hot water tanks in low income homes. This not only provided meaningful employment and skills to the previously unemployed, it also directly benefited low income families. The project was so successful that the organisation running it is now looking at the possibility of marketing itself for commercial installations. And
 the close working relationship between ODP and local schools to ensure that young people retain a sense of hope and direction. This has led to the establishment of a sports academy and a young enterprise scheme and is backed by youth worker support.

While I am sure that Don Riesterer will tell you about some of the trials and tribulations getting both Government agencies and local community leaders to provide sufficient support, ODP does offer one example of the sort of approach we want to foster.

ODP demonstrates that if you harness the skills and expertise of central and local government, business, Maori and the community and voluntary sectors you can begin to achieve real traction.

Actionworks

Actionworks in Canterbury offers another example.

Actionworks is a partnership between the Department of Work and Income and the Canterbury Development Corporation.

The programme provides specialist case management for young people in the 16-24 age group receiving the community wage. The aim is to expand this to the point where we will have a network of Youth Specialists working in all 13 Department of Work and Income sites in the Canterbury region.

Actionworks demonstrates partnership between the Canterbury Development Corporation and DWI, in a locally designed response to a locally defined need.

Department of Work and Income regionalisation

Local responsiveness brings me to my third example of Theory into Practice – regional flexibility in the Department of Work and Income.

I have made very clear my determination that the Department of Work and Income will become a credible public service agency dedicated to assisting New Zealanders into work opportunities and responding to local needs.

Public perception of DWI is that it operates a one size fits all model where every action is centrally directed from Wellington.

Standardisation has its benefits in Income Support delivery, but employment markets are dynamic and fiercely regional creatures.

This Government is committed to instituting a regional flexibility model within Work and Income which will allow local regional commissioners and managers to respond appropriately to local labour market needs.

Practical changes should include:

 Local services better tailored to local needs (eg. a regional focus for work brokers).
 Specialisation of services to better meet needs of clients (eg. a greater understanding of the needs of particular client groups).
 More appropriate service to client groups (eg. provision of services by Maori for Maori).
 Partnerships with communities that maximise the collaboration/coordination between the Department, other agencies and local community groups (such as ODP and Actionworks).
 Increased community involvement in setting the direction and priorities.

This desire for a clearer focus on employment also drove our decision to return the Community Employment function to the Department of Labour.

Community Employment will be established as a separate service unit of the Department of Labour with its own management structure reporting to the Chief Executive. Community Employment will continue to have a close relationship with the Department of Work and Income along with a number of other agencies.

In its new location Community Employment is expected to be able to assist with:

 Targeting specialised advice and support to Maori and Pacific communities to close growing social and economic gaps
 Building community capacity and leadership
 Community based strategic planning
 Low cost testing of innovative employment and local development ideas
 Building partnerships and networks between communities and the public and private sectors

Returning Community Employment to its original home in the Department of Labour clearly delineates the role of DWI in assisting people into jobs or becoming employment ready, and the supply side function of Community Employment in stimulating local employment initiatives.

I also anticipate new employment partnerships being formed between local government, CEG and the new Ministry of Economic Development. This can already be seen in work on the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs.

Relationships with the Community and Voluntary Sector

My last example of partnership in practice is in the community and voluntary sector.

In opposition we noted with concern the steady decline of the relationship between Government and civil society as embodied by the community and voluntary sector.

The health of the sector is a good barometer of the health of our society.

Unthinking adherence to a rigid contracting model, centralised needs identification and programme specification, and an unwillingness to acknowledge the independence of sector groups over the last decade–led to an almost complete breakdown of the relationship.

Fundamentally, the government failed to recognise the character of the community and voluntary sector.

Why is it important?

Three simple reasons:

 The community / voluntary sector is a rallying point for citizens. Whether people choose to donate to or work for; whether the activity is helping the aged or saving the Kiwi; the sector provides opportunities to participate in the life of the community. This capacity to engage builds our communities, it is the 'social glue' that binds us together. So all New Zealanders benefit because our communities grow stronger.

 The community / voluntary sector provides a route for citizens to voice their concerns and passions. Sometimes this allows uncomfortable messages to reach Wellington, but hear them we must. Why? Because all New Zealanders benefit if the public policy debate is enriched.

 The community / voluntary sector is close to the grassroots and is flexible enough to respond to emerging issues or needs well before centrally driven agencies are able to respond. And again we all benefit because services are more responsive and reach population groups not easily accessed by mainstream services.

Understanding the importance of the sector, we are forming a joint government / community sector working group to develop proposals to strengthen the relationship.

Dorothy Wilson, the former Deputy Mayor of Waitakere City Council, will chair the group.

The desire of the community and voluntary sector to take an active role in rebuilding the relationship is witnessed by the fact that over 300 people have applied to take up the seven community voluntary sector places on the group.

Of course this means that many people will be disappointed. However, we will ensure that all these people are involved in consultation on working group proposals.

Why do we need a working group to consider and recommend how the relationship can be improved?

Because if we say we believe in partnership we must demonstrate this commitment through our actions.

This is our new paradigm, one where Government not only talks the talk but walks the walk too.

Conclusion

Programmes such as the Opotiki Development Project and Actionworks, plus a myriad of others, demonstrate what is possible through partnership.

They demonstrate that community based investment in social policy is a value for money investment in community and national wellbeing.

They also demonstrate the power of thinking outside traditional sector or institutional boundaries.

Because if we are really going to make a difference we have to think about communities, and therefore social policy investments, in a more holistic way than we have in the past.

And this means understanding the linkages between economic and social policy.

Work is the lifeblood of the community:
 So we need to revitalise regional and local economies to ensure that people have opportunities to work in their community. The 'Mayors Taskforce for Jobs' and regional development partnerships with the Ministry for Economic Development are steps along this road. As is our investment in the engine of economic participation – education.

A community without services is a community at risk
 So we need to consider local services, including the presence of central government and non-government agencies in communities. This may mean reviewing the way we make decisions – for example Government agencies have decided to exit communities on the basis of a dollar and cents business case, without sufficient regard to the impact of decisions on the community. And communities have become isolated from decisions regarding social service funding to the community and voluntary sector. We intend to address these issues through better consultation and active partnerships, and by exploring models to devolve social service decision making to communities.

And change requires leadership
 If we are to gain traction on the big social and economic issues affecting communities, we need to demonstrate not only local and national leadership, but partnership. Government in Wellington needs to acknowledge, respect and utilise the expertise that is located in local government and communities. Local government needs to utilise its close links with community, business, and the voluntary sector. And we need to rebuild the networks between our institutions.

Lets not underestimate the importance of this.

This is a 'sea change' for central government, a move away from the belief that the state or the market alone offers all the solutions.

And it is a 'sea change' for local government, as authorities put their expertise into economic and social investment in partnership with central government.


Central and Local Government in a partnership for community wellbeing.

This is our vision, our future focus.

Working together we are not only fighting fit, but a force to be reckoned with.

I look forward to hearing about your ideas and initiatives.

Thank you.

ENDS

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