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Burton: LGNZ Workshop Newly Elected Mayors

Local Government New Zealand Workshop Newly Elected Mayors

Thank you for inviting me here to speak to you all. I would like to first congratulate Local Government New Zealand for its initiative to bring together the new mayors elected at the last local authority elections.

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Thank you for inviting me here to speak to you all. I would like to first congratulate Local Government New Zealand for its initiative to bring together the new mayors elected at the last local authority elections.

Though much has been achieved in recent years there is plenty of work ahead for all of us involved with local government in this country.

Though you have been in office now for some eighteen months I wish to congratulate you all on the path you've chosen in serving your community.

I wish to acknowledge the key leadership role you have, in and on behalf of your communities. This importance of this role is recognised by central government.

Role of Elected Members

There is no real 'job description', as such, contained within the Local Government Act (LGA) for elected members. The role was not prescribed, instead leaving it to some extent as a matter for local authorities to determine the style of operation to best suit their needs.

This allows for flexibility and optimises opportunities to respond to local diversity and decision-making needs. The growing diversity of New Zealand underscores the increasing importance of each local authority having the flexibility to respond across a board range of needs and preferences.

As you are aware, a Mayor or Chairperson holds a number of general roles. He or she is:
oA presiding member at council meetings, responsible for ensuring the orderly conduct of business during meetings according to standing orders;
oAn advocate on behalf of the community, which will likely involve promoting the community and representing its interests;
oA ceremonial head of council;
oA provider of leadership and feedback to other elected members on teamwork and chairmanship of committees; and
oA Justice of the Peace for duration of your time in office.

The LGA reinforces the important distinction between governance and management. There is a requirement for local authorities to adopt a code of conduct setting out the standards of behaviour that are expected from all elected members. Effective governance requires a large degree of commitment-from and trust-within elected members.

I recognise the challenging role that you have as mayors and that your path will not always be an easy one.

Local Government Sector: Working Together

Both local and central government are here to serve our communities - now and in the future. We must be outcomes driven and we must strive to meet our communities' needs. The LGA stresses the increased importance of community dialogue and representation in contributing to effective partnership. All elected representatives have an essential role to play in this.

It is timely to remind ourselves of the purpose of local government as set out in the LGA, which is:
oTo enable democratic decision-making and action by and on behalf of communities; and
oTo promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities now and in the future.

A number of points can be made about this purpose clause. Firstly, and perhaps the overarching point, is that it requires a sustainable development approach to decision-making. In fact, all decision-making processes in the Local Government Act are under-pinned by the concept of sustainable development.

Second, it requires an integrated approach to decision-making.

Third, it requires vision - a great awareness of your communities' priorities and preferences.

And finally, it will not be achievable in a vacuum. It requires you, as a sector, to work in partnership - to foster the relationships you have with your communities, and to make the most of your position as community leaders.

Effective central and local government collaboration is essential for communities to prosper. This Government values its partnership with the local government sector. I must point out that Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) plays a vital role in this regard. It is a conduit for your individual voices. It articulates the issues that are of concern to you and, in turn, gently but forcefully, makes its arguments to me and other Ministers.

I cannot say that the Government agrees with LGNZ - or any other key stakeholder for that matter - 100 percent of the time. But we have a respect for each other and this is growing as we become more confident that we are all working to serve the same communities together.

One of the key achievements that we have made together has been to change the way that Central and Local Government work together.

This Government recognised very early on, that an effective working relationship between central and local government is essential. We see the local government sector playing a key role in New Zealand's constitutional democracy and in improving the "well-being" of all our communities. We must therefore work in partnership.

One of the first initiatives announced by the Prime Minister, after coming into office in 1999, was to establish a Central/Local Government Forum. The Forum has now met on ten occasions and provides the opportunity for free and frank discussion between Ministers and senior local government representatives.

This has enabled a wide range of Ministers to quickly attain an understanding of the issues facing the local government sector, and where necessary, to make decisions expeditiously.

At the first forum we agreed to the following for how we would work together:

oThe foundation of a dialogue at this and later forums rests on a shared view that local and central government have respective governance mandates to fulfil. The forum wishes to advance the recognition and understanding of the unique roles that each plays as part of building a framework for guiding future policy decisions.
oThe achievement of national goals, whether economic, social or environmental, requires both central and local solutions that will be enhanced by strengthening the capacity of our communities, and in particular their capacity for good governance.

Given the vast array of local government functions, there are a number of Ministers as well as government departments and agencies who need to be aware of the role and function of local government, and the decisions that need to be made on a day-to-day basis.

I am confident the ten meetings held to date have given both central and local government participants a valuable understanding of the pressures facing each other's respective sectors.

As a result of this developing relationship, there is a good deal more trust between central and local government. This is already paying dividends.

I want to acknowledge here the success of the Forum is in significant part due to the leadership of the Co-Chairs - PM Helen Clark and LGNZ President Basil Morrison.

Department of Internal Affairs: Central Government-Local Government Interface
In 2004 Cabinet agreed to a number of initiatives by the Department of Internal Affairs to facilitate the central/local government interface regarding community outcome processes. This included providing a central government contact point for local government to raise problems or opportunities regarding central government engagement. Elements of this approach included:
oSetting up a web-based directory of central government information and contacts for local government use;
oDeveloping mechanisms for central government agencies to share good practice and lessons from community outcomes processes;
oRunning an annual workshop on community outcomes processes; and,
oAssisting LGNZ and the Society of Local Government Managers to provide workshops to assist councils to fulfil monitoring and reporting requirements.

Collaboration in Action: Shared Initiatives
To achieve mutual outcomes, however, collaboration needs to go beyond just central and local government. It needs to include local business, the not-for-profit sector, community leaders and local citizens.

Neighbouring communities are interdependent and geographical boundaries are becoming less significant. More and more councils are working together on shared initiatives. Current examples of such initiatives include:
oShared procurement contracts for roading and computer systems;
oShared service delivery for building control and water services; and
oShared planning processes such as Community Outcome Processes (Taranaki and Waikato), District Plans (Wairarapa).

There are initiatives such as Southland's "Our Way - Shared Services Forum". This covers a range of services, including information technology, shared planning policy, waste management, civil defence and a multi-employer collective agreement. I understand that this has generated savings of more than $1 million for the four councils involved in the first two years of operation, for a combined investment of less than $60,000.

There are many other examples and I applaud the innovative approach numerous councils are taking. I encourage you all to continue looking at new ways of going about your business. The LGA and other legislation provides the platform. This approach may well unlock the door to efficiencies that you will be striving to achieve for your communities.

Changing New Zealand Society: Some Impacts on Local Government
Local government has a key role in infrastructure - physical and social. Local authorities need to make decisions for the community now and in the future. Therefore, it is important to focus not only on how things are now, but also how our communities are evolving. This too is essential to a sustainable development approach.

With the upcoming census due next week, it is timely to remind ourselves of what we currently know about the changing nature of New Zealand society. The statisticians tell us that, overall, we will have small population growth and we will be unlikely to reach five million people within the next fifty years.

But this is not the full picture. Our population is aging. In less than fifty years, half of our population will be aged forty-five and over - and a quarter will be over sixty-five. The aging population will result in a shrinking workforce that will put pressure on our productivity and public finances, particularly as superannuation, public health, and other costs rise.

We will also be much more ethnically diverse. (As we all know Maori, Pacific and Asian populations are growing at a faster rate than the rest of New Zealand's population. All of these groups add to the richness of our communities.)

Government interventions will need to vary according to specific needs of the broad range of groups that make up our society. We will only develop and build the social capital within our society if all of our communities can tap into our social structures and participate fully in society.

The third area of population change, and for you perhaps the most important, is our internal migration. The 20th century saw the urbanisation of New Zealand. As the population ages - we might expect to see new different patterns.

The movement of people puts pressure on both the growing and declining communities. For a declining community, the sunk-costs of infrastructure, become harder for a dwindling population to maintain. For growing communities, the challenge is how to resource the growing need for infrastructure.

Other factors that put pressure on the ability to provide local network infrastructure include:
oGreater recognition of the contribution of sustainable high quality local infrastructure to local/ regional economic development;
oIncreased sensitivity and higher standards in terms of the environmental impact of infrastructure-based services;
oHigher public health expectations and standards;
oThe legacy of poor/unrealistic infrastructure investments in the past;
oInadequate historic funding of the maintenance of aging infrastructure that is now ending its useful life; and
oIncreasing tourist numbers.

The ability of local authorities to provide acceptable levels of infrastructure into the future is uneven. This raises questions about whether and when central government should assume some responsibility for funding local infrastructure, and the relationship between such funding and the local expenditure priorities of each council.

The national interest in the provision of some forms of infrastructure is recognised by the provision of subsidies or grants in some circumstances. Examples include:
oThe availability of subsidies to assist small communities with effective sewage reticulation and treatment and public water supplies;
oSignificant government investment in transport infrastructure - yes this is still the case - in Auckland, Wellington, Western Bay of Plenty and Waikato; and
oOne-off government funding for particular infrastructure needs in the Chatham Islands, Grey District and Stewart Island.

I acknowledge the difficult task that local authorities face regarding provision of infrastructure. You need to address the failings of the past, the present needs and those for the future. This is no mean feat and the challenge for you, as mayors, is to demonstrate leadership in all of this.

Closing remarks
I have tried to provide a flavour of the relationship between the Central and Local Government sectors since the passing of the LGA.

It has been a dynamic time with significant change that, while providing opportunities, can create new challenges. Your sector has had to adapt, as has the Government.

Again, I wish to express my gratitude to Local Government New Zealand for the invitation to speak to you and I look forward to hearing about your experiences, challenges and successes so far.

ENDS

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