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Is the Future for Local Government the future of local government?

After two years, we've now got the final report of the panel set up to look into the future of local government, He piki tūranga, he piki kōtuku.

Does it move us forward? Is it a blueprint for the future? Not in my book. Any good points? Yes - two.

  1. Local government needs to honour Te Tiriti and work far more closely with local iwi.

  2. We should use more innovative ways to engage with and involve local communities.

But then you get to the rest. Structure first. The Panel is recommending councils either join up to become unitary or stay separate with a combined council at a higher level. This combined council may have either an appointed or elected mayor. And the idea is that local government itself works out which of the two is best and sorts out its own restructures.


Possible local government restructures have failed in Northland, Hawke's Bay, Tasman/Nelson, Wellington and the Wairarapa. Many local people didn't like them and councils were far from united. The track record for self-imposed structural change isn't poor; it's non-existent.

Funding second. The Panel has recommended a new central government agency allocates money to climate change and wellbeing outcomes-based projects - $1 billion per year. Hummmm. And this will all be transparent and collegial. Surely we want politicians to decide how central government funds are spent and be held accountable for them. What stops this turning into a lolly scramble, riddled with biases and political preferences?

Voting third. The Panel's report asserts that better community engagement and lowering the voting age to 16 will have a magical effect on more people voting. I'm far from convinced.

Sure, local government has got numerous problems: too many councils, not enough money, lack of community engagement and attempting to act on climate change and the effects of major disasters.

This Panel's report paints a picture of a world where everyone is reasonable, can easily agree and work together for the common future-generations good. It's not the world I know.

What next? Well, nothing. The Local Government Minister, Kieran McAnalty, has signalled he'll not take any action until after the election. A predictable and sensible move. But he didn't commission this report; his predecessor did. It may well be, this report is put in the worthy but not likely to happen filing tray.

Shame - an opportunity missed for some bold and specific recommendations.


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