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Call for councils to focus on core services

Local Government Forum – A call for councils to focus on core services will get mixed reception from residential ratepayers – but raises issues which must be addressed

The major business lobby group, Local Government Forum, has been quick off the mark to secure a meeting today with new Local Government Minister Rodney Hide.

The Forum’s report, Local Governemnt and the Provision of Public Goods, presented to Mr Hide, is largely an economist’s justification for the Forum policies of lower rates for businesses and no public spending on services and facilties that could be provided by the private sector.

If these policies were ever enacted in full they would certainly bring about a totally different kind of local council than most we have today.

For many years councils have provided facilities which contribute to the quality of life of their residents – most of which, under the Forum’s policies, would become partly or fully user-pays.

Libraries, swimming pools, water supply, wastewater museums, public transport, indoor recreation facilities, sports grounds etc – to name but a few.

Many resiential ratepayers would support some of these activites becoming user-pays – but the danger is that many such facilities and services might not exist if the private sector did not in fact take over their owwnership and operation.

Any suggestion of the privatisation of water supply and sewerage reticulation and disposal would certainly arouse substantial opposition.

This issue will be a major conundrum in arriving at new policies on local government responsibilities and funding.

Other parts of the Forum’s report deserve support – or a least detailed consideration.

The principle that council’s should not be involved in wealth distibution is certainly worth adopting.

So to is the recognition that council, when setting rates [tax], have no information on which they can assess  ‘ability to pay’ – whereas central government does have that information through the offices of Inland Revenue.

In another observation the Forum identifies that most local politicans make decisions on the basis of self interest rather than the public interest. Many patepayers would agree with that – the remedy to which must be found in new electoral arrangements that result in greater accountability by elected members to their constituents.

Overall the Forum report is a useful contribution to the debate on the future of Local Government – but Mr Hide must also listen to the voices of residential and rural ratepayers who are the ones least able to meet the costs of wasteful and extravagant councils.


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