Archive for the ‘Local Government’ category

Regional councils

April 15, 2008

The Auckland Regional Council has made public its submission to the Royal Commission on Auckland’s governance structure, and it wants to abolish itself, and replace itself with a new super-council (an issue I blogged about previously here) saving Auckland ratepayers $160 000 000 per year. Although I have no strong opinions on the matter, $160 000 000 is a lot of money, and provides a good arguement for amalgamation. Perhaps equally importantly, it will mean only dealing with one council, and not two, when applying for consents for building consents, and dealing with council regualtions and bureaucracy. I have no doubt that the Royal Commsion will look into its proposal, and recomend what it thinks is best, and I hope they come up with a very good solution to the local government issues facing Auckland.

If $160 000 000 can be saved by abolishing Auckland Regional Council, it leaves me with the question, why stop at Auckland, and why not extend the reforms to the whole country? At the moment Giborne, Nelson and Tasman are unitary authorities, and appear to do fine without any regional councils. Obviously some local government areas are too small to do the tasks a regional council would, or dependent on others, but this is an idea worth looking into.

Also, earlier this year, in Queensland, Australia, the number of councils was halved, from 156 to 72, in a radical reform of local government. The effects of this could be looked into for any future local governemnt reform here, especially as Queensland has a similar population to New Zealand.

Local Government elections

October 14, 2007

The local government elections are over and the results are out. the results differ significently from council to council, but one can consider the results pleasing from a right wing viewpoint, with John Banks beating hubbard in Auckland (no surprise) and Citizens and Ratepayers taking a absolute majority in Auckland. In Christchurch Bob Parker was elected mayor, with indepoendent citizens and independent councillors (many with right wing political views) taking a council majority. In Wellington Kerry Prendegast was re-elected with no significent changes to the council. In North Shore incumbent mayor George Wood suffered a shock defeat to anti-rates candidate Andrew Williams, despite Wood having a massive 48% lead in one poll.  Kiwiblog has more news. I’m sceptical of council results being an omen for next year, so don’t look too much into Banks’ victory.

One interesting observation about the local government elections, is the media played up the position of mayor, and did most of its election reporting on the mayoralty, while the mayor only has one vote in (in Auckland’s case) a 20 member council. It is the overall compositon of the council than who has the mayoral chains that is important.

Also notable was the low turnout, at only 41%. It seems local issues don’t matter to many people. The Government is looking into this. One way I thought of to increase turnout is to continue the new council terms until 2011, and have local elections combined with central Government ones, with mayor and councils on the ballot paper. As no-one cares about DHBs, they should be elected by councils, not voters at large.

Local Government Amalgamation

August 6, 2007

Sorry for being late to blog about this, but the Government has announcedthat it will hold a Royal Commission (the membership of, terms of reference of, and date to report back still to be decided) into the local governance of Auckland. Meanwhile, National list MP Mark Blumsky has introduced a Bill (the Auckland and Wellington Local Government Reform Bill) to establish task forces for both cities to look into local government for those cities, report back by 2010 and have referendums to see if those plans will be implemented. I welcome the Royal Commission of inquiry, and hope it produces good results. Same with Blumsky’s Bill, which deserves to go to select committee.

 On the issue of amalgamation and local government, it is an important issue, and a good argument can be made that we don’t need 7 councils just for Auckland, and 85 territorial authorities nationwide. Fewer councils will mean fewer staff and bureaucracy, ability to obtain economies of scale, and a greater ability to work together at the regional level. On the minus side is less local representation, the possibility of a ‘tyranny of the majority’ type problems in some cases. There is also no conclusive proof big is better. In fact Owen McShane, a resource management expert, has labbled the tiny Newmarket Borough Council (which existed before it was amalgamated into Auckland City in 1986) the best run council he has ever seen. For me the issue should be looked at experts in the area, and not from an ideological framework. The Royal Commission and Mark Blumsky’s Bill are both good steps in the right direction, although I would extend the royal commision or taskforces to look at the whole country, as there are a number of rural councils where amalgamtion could be useful (i.e. in kaikoura district there are only three thousand people, should it be merged with the Hurunui district (population 10 000) to form a ‘North Canterbury District’) and in terms of economies of scale possibly more gains from amalgamation than the already large Auckland councils.

Auckland City Politics

July 19, 2007

The local government politics of Auckland City is getting interesting, with John Banks announcing he wants his old job as Auckland mayor back, and according to an unscientific NZ Herald Poll, might get it back. This is good news, as the current mayor Dick Hubbard has done a bad job, including the council spending large amounts of ratepayers money on overseas trips for itself and taxi trips, having big budget blowouts, and much more wastefull spending, as well as their attempt to ban billboards, a failed coup against the deputy mayor, massive 33% rate increases, together with 19% increase in water rates, and suggesting people should borrow money to pay for these rate increases. To be fair to Hubbard much of Auckland’s infrastructure had been neglected for a long time, but it must be pretty bad to justify the massive rate increases. According to the New Zealand Herald, Labour is desperate to keep Banks out, and may help Hubbard, due to fears it could add to a sense of inevitability about Labour loosing next year. This makes Bank’s lead in polls even better news. Any Labour intervention should be opposed on the grounds of preserving the independence of local government, and the idea that central government should ignore whose behind central government and leave local government decisions to ratepayers. If Labour does intervene, I hope everyone in Auckland knows about it so Labour can be linked to Hubbard’s unpopular policies, and also as the intervention will not change the big rate increases that have occurred on Hubbard’s watch, probably won’t change the final election result.

Another issue facing Auckland is the idea of amalgamation, or creating a “supercity”. It can have some benefits in getting all Auckland to work together and streamlining bureaucracy, but can also have some costs. I tend to lean towards the supercity side, but it will need to be supported by a rigorous cost-benefit analysis first.