Local Government Act 2002 Ammendment Bill (No.2) First Reading

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 21:30
Local Government

Local government touches everyone’s lives.

Councils help to build our roads, supply our water, and collect our rubbish. They manage our libraries, our community halls, and our swimming pools. They make decisions that affect the lives of people in their local communities every day.

Councils provide essential infrastructure and services to support jobs, regional growth and community development.

They have a challenging job, and their world is changing.

The costs of providing local services and managing council infrastructure are rising faster than council revenues. Councils need new ways to manage finances, improve efficiencies and create better value for ratepayers.

There are currently 78 councils and 66 water authorities across New Zealand. Some regions in New Zealand are facing rapid growth, while others have to deal with declining populations.

As a result, some councils are struggling to provide services to their communities at optimal levels because individually their rating base is small and they are unable to attract the necessary levels of expertise within their ranks.  

The current legislation focuses on amalgamation to gain scale for shared services.

Communities in Northland, the Hawke’s Bay and Wellington have told us they do not want full scale amalgamation.

This Bill provides a middle ground.

Communities will retain their elected councils. Councils, in turn, will be able to work more collaboratively to manage infrastructure and services across our regions. This will deliver more joined-up, cost effective services and better value for our ratepayers.

I have engaged with councils and iwi around the country over recent weeks and have received their feedback on this package.

Mr Speaker, this Bill implements the government’s Better Local Services reform package.

Firstly, this Bill will allow two or more councils across a region to create more effective council-controlled organisations (CCOs). CCOs are a proven way to deliver cost-effective services and infrastructure to communities.

The current legislation restricts the kinds of CCOs that can be created.

Through multiply-owned CCOs councils across regions will be better able to achieve cost savings and improved service delivery of water and transport and other council services.

Multiply-owned CCOs can have the size and scale to enable them to have much greater capability and capacity than can be achieved by individual councils.

For example, this Bill will allow a CCO, owned by multiple councils in the Waikato area. I know that councils are already exploring options for shared services to run a Waikato water network. A multi-owned CCO could own the infrastructure, do the planning and manage the network for its shareholding councils.

This bill will also remove some of the barriers to possible transport CCOs.  Two models for multiply-owned regional transport CCOs will be specifically provided for in the legislation.

If councils prefer there is provision to create a bespoke model which will require the approval of the Minister of Transport. I know in the Canterbury region that will be welcomed.

The Bill also enables region-wide planning with joint council committees able to prepare combined plans under the Resource Management Act.

This would make life easier for communities and developers, as they would have only one set of planning rules to deal with across a region.

The Bill also introduces much stronger accountability arrangements for CCOs. Councils can appoint joint committee to oversee the management of their CCOs.

CCO planning and delivery documents will be closely aligned with council plans, to ensure that ratepayers get the services and infrastructure they need.

Secondly, Sir, the Local Government Commission will be empowered to work with councils and communities to deliver local solutions.

This Bill will expand the processes available to the Local Government Commission.

Current processes mean the Commission is limited to reacting to reorganisation applications it receives. The Bill will enable the Commission to be much more pro-active in setting its work programme.

Ratepayers and residents will see a Commission that is much more responsive to local circumstances working with local communities, councils and iwi to find local solutions.

To balance these enhanced powers, the Bill will also place greater transparency and accountability arrangements on the Commission.

Any reorganisations will need to protect the integrity of any council-iwi arrangements.  The Commission and councils will need to consult with their local communities as well as iwi on any proposed reorganisation

The Commission will be required to provide annual statements of intent and agree its work programme with the Minister of Local Government at the time.

The Commission will be subject to the Official Information Act.

Mr Speaker, it is expected the Commission will have an increased workload as it works with communities on shared arrangements. For this reason, I am proposing the number of permanent Commissioners be increased from the three to a maximum of five.

Mr Speaker, this Bill will make a number of changes to the Local Government Act 2002. It will enable council-led reorganisations for the first time.

Councils will be able to develop and implement reorganisation proposals in consultation with their communities and their neighbouring councils.

The Local Government Commission will have enhanced powers to work with councils and government to support reorganisation proposals.

But most importantly, these changes will enable more effective delivery of quality local services that will support regional growth, jobs and local communities.

I urge you to support this Bill.

I commend this Bill to the House.