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Delay In Local Government Bill Urged

Business Organisations Urge Delay In Local Government Bill

A group representing major business organisations called on the Government today not to ram the Local Government Bill through Parliament before Christmas and instead to have meaningful consultations with business sector and other ratepayer representatives about their concerns.

Speaking on behalf of the Local Government Forum, chairman Rob McLagan said that the Bill as reported back to the House did not include amendments that addressed the key concerns of the business community and many other groups.

"These are that councils will have virtually unbridled powers to expand their activities and impose costs on business and the wider community, rather than be required to operate within a constitutional framework which focuses them on their proper role of ensuring the provision of public goods and services that benefit the whole community and cannot be supplied commercially. An expansion of the scope of local government would be a further anti-growth development, conflicting with the government's stated goal of raising economic growth and restoring New Zealand's income rankings to the top half of the OECD.

"Businesses, including the many thousands of small businesses, and other groups such as the elderly and those on fixed incomes, simply aren't in a position to absorb increased local government charges and rates.

"A major Bill of a constitutional nature and with such wide-ranging implications should not be rushed through", Mr McLagan said. "Nothing would be lost if the government were to hold it over and engage in consultations which the Local Government Forum has requested."

Mr McLagan said that the Minister of Local Government, Chris Carter, had indicated that he would not be able to meet Forum representatives until the new year. Mr McLagan also released a letter to the Prime Minister dated 22 October 2002 from the presidents and chairs of major business organisations represented on the Forum detailing its concerns and requesting a meeting. No substantive response to this request has been received. "It is unacceptable for meetings with representatives of a sector that pays around 50% of total rates to be held after legislation has been passed", Mr McLagan said.

"There have been other expressions of concern about the Bill, ranging from ratepayer groups to the mayor of Auckland, John Banks and the mayor of Wellington, Kerry Prendergast, as well as opposition parties and the United Future Party. United Future has indicated it will vote against certain clauses of the Bill. The Forum expects that, consistent with its earlier assurances that it opposes the general thrust of the Bill, United Future will oppose key clauses such as those expanding the purpose of local government and conferring a power of general competence on councils.

"In all these circumstances it would be better for all concerned if further consultations took place rather than for Parliament to rush through a flawed piece of legislation that would harm the economy and be a source of ongoing controversy", Mr McLagan concluded.

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