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Reform needed but council amalgamations the lazy option

9 December 2013

Reform needed but council amalgamations the lazy option says Rotorua mayor

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick says there is a need for local government reform in the Bay of Plenty but simply amalgamating councils into a single ‘super council’ is a lazy option.

She says there are genuine alternatives that can better serve our communities and make councils more efficient, without sacrificing local participative democracy and strong local leadership.

Mayor Chadwick said Rotorua people had made it very clear throughout the recent local government elections that enabling local leadership and genuine home grown democracy were essential.

“We’ve responded quickly to that compelling message and we’re currently engaging with our community on a bold draft vision for the future - Rotorua 2030.

Mrs Chadwick says a knee-jerk rearrangement of lines on a map is not necessarily going to achieve the long term results communities need and deserve.

“But there are untapped opportunities for building on the solid relationships and goodwill that exist among local government leaders in the region, and we need to take these to a new level.

“Our focus should be on working collaboratively to improve our services and reduce our costs. We need to focus on the right things, like potentially amalgamating specific services such as water and land transportation, rather than seeking to amalgamate whole councils.

“There’s also potential for much wider cooperative relationships based around natural resources, such as freshwater, forestry and geothermal.”

“But simply reshuffling boundary lines is, in our view, the lazy reform option. It’s a sticking plaster approach and lacks creative thinking. It’s naïve to assume that positive change will come about by simply moving boundaries around and forcing organisations to amalgamate.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s not how big a council is that will drive cost savings, but how good its internal practices are,” says Mrs Chadwick.

“There’s little evidence to show that political amalgamations benefit the very people they are supposed to support. In fact we’re now learning from the experiences of a raft of council amalgamations in Australia that the claim ‘bigger is better’ is simply not backed up by reality. On the contrary, research is showing that the substantial costs of transition, coupled with the overheads of much larger organisations, can result in a prohibitive increase in costs.

“However increased costs are not even the primary reason for dissatisfaction in those amalgamated communities. As Australian communities’ advocate Peter Kenyon pointed out when speaking in Rotorua recently, people are becoming increasingly concerned about the growing degradation of local leadership and loss of local democracy following council amalgamations.

“So let’s have local government reform by all means. Let’s build economies of scale in specific areas. Let’s collaborate to achieve efficiencies and improve the quality of services for our communities. But let’s not ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’.

“We urge Bay of Plenty local government leaders to come together to work collaboratively and creatively to determine the best possible future for local government in the Bay of Plenty region.

“We urge them not to become consumed with the dogma of political amalgamation. There are more productive, less costly and potentially more acceptable options that will ensure tangible change can be achieved for our communities, and these all involve greater collaboration and higher levels of co-operation across council boundaries.”

ENDS

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