The Government needs to put ratepayers at the front of the discussion when it comes to its response to the report released today on climate change adaptation, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“In the report ‘Vulnerable: the quantum of local government infrastructure exposed to sea level rise’ from Local Government NZ it is suggested that as much as $14 billion of local government infrastructure is at risk from sea level rise.
“Based on this report the Government may be required to change policy settings concerning climate mitigation and needs to consider the cost to the end user.
“This cost must be considered particularly in light of its gold plated three waters policy, which will impose high costs on councils, ultimately falling on ratepayers.
“We need to be pragmatic about the cost of climate change mitigation, not idealistic.
“National is working with the Government to see an independent, non-political Climate Change Commission established, so we have a framework through which we address climate change issues in the future.”
Small business owners are still waiting for the Government’s Small Business Council to do something for a sector struggling with rising costs and prescriptive labour law changes, National’s Small Business spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“It has been five months since the Council was formed and after four meetings, including one in November, there has been no tangible improvements for small business.
“In fact, despite the Council stating, almost eight weeks ago, that it would increase its focus on how it could “better support” small business, nothing has been forthcoming.
“Negative sentiment still abounds in business with a recent NZIER Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion finding that 18 per cent of businesses expect a worsening in economic conditions over the next few months.
“This sustained negativity is well founded because the Government has done nothing for businesses, with its union-friendly employment law changes and hikes to the minimum wage only adding to their woes.
“Surely better support for small businesses should have been the goal for this council, and indeed for the Labour-led Government, from the outset.
“Smaller operators make up 97 per cent of all businesses in this country and employ over 600,000 people, it's not good enough that the Government and this Council continue to sit back and watch them struggle, while they claim to be doing something about it.”
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has released an underwhelming policy decision for Councils on the Three Waters review, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“Compulsory aggregated services is still on the table despite the uproar from Councils across the country. It’s becoming clear that this is the option the Minister is leaning towards as actual decisions won’t be made until the end of 2019.
“Ms Mahuta has raised Council expectations through the roof prior to her trip to the United Kingdom six months ago. But the Minister didn’t bring back any new information other than ‘international models demonstrate that better quality services can be delivered’.
“Councils are losing confidence in Ms Mahuta’s ability to run the Three Waters Review as she continues to leave them hanging by a thread for at least another 12 months.
“The Minister gave the impression that Councils would know more about the regulations of their drinking water standards by October this year, however she has just extended the deadline to June next year.
“The Cabinet paper is another re-write of the Minister’s three keynote speeches and shows the Minister has no new information to give to Councils.
“Ms Mahuta needs to be addressing growth and ageing infrastructure. Councils don’t have the time to wait while the decision is delayed, they have annual and 10 year plans to produce.
“How can they possibly plan for the future of their infrastructure if they don’t know what regulations the Minister is going to impose on them.”
The Government is on warning not to dumb down rules for New Zealand’s Three Waters to a one-size-fits-all regime as it won’t be a good fit for every community, National's Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“National supports the call from Councils around the country for the Government to show common sense on water reform.
“We’re all holding our breath awaiting Government announcements around Three Waters reforms this month and Councils are no doubt anxious about the direction that this new regime will take.
“What no one wants to see is mandatory one-size-fits-all policy making.
“This approach has the potential to negatively impact smaller local authorities, lumbering their limited ratepayer base with huge debt for years to come.
“What might fit the Wellington City Council will be very different to the needs of the Waimate District Council and it’s this diversity that the Government must take into account if its water reforms are to stay afloat.
“Councils do want high-quality infrastructure and services around waste, storm and drinking water.
“However, they’re fearful that the Government will enforce aggregated services within a specific time frame and not take into account the range of communities across the country and each Council’s ability to fund and support this massive change.”
The Government must stop ignoring the evidence that small businesses are being hurt by its policies and that in turn is undermining New Zealand’s economic growth, National’s Small Business spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“MYOB’s latest survey indicates more than half of New Zealand’s small and medium-sized businesses expect the economy to decline over the next 12 months compared with just 23 per cent prior to the election last year.
“The survey doesn’t just poll sentiment. It asks what’s actually happening in the firms it polls. The results show 26 per cent of business owners saw their own revenue fall in the past 12 months – the first time actual, revenue has been negative since 2011.
“About half of those surveyed blame the Government for the slump in confidence and almost three-quarters cited rising fuel costs.
“The survey is in tune with National’s own survey and the feedback National MPs are getting from talking to business owners on the ground every day. The Government can’t continue to dismiss the slump in confidence as some sort of aberration because it doesn’t fit its narrative.
“The impact on the economy and on our communities is being felt now. Small businesses are reluctant to take on apprentices or hire more workers. They’re holding off on making investments.
“Unlike this Government, National is listening because we respect small business owners and we recognise their contribution to New Zealand.”
Small business owners will be disappointed to hear that the Government’s Small Business Council is too busy to listen right now because it has been asked to advise on establishing a new working group, National’s Small Business spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“In a classic ‘Yes, Minister’ scenario, the Council has been tasked with advising Small Business Minister Stuart Nash on the establishment of a Small Business Institute, or to put it plainly, a working group will advise on whether to create another working group.
“The Council, which will also advise on its own future beyond June 2019, is one of more than 180 working groups hatched by a Government that came to office without having worked out its policies during nine years in Opposition. It prefers to use $135,000 of taxpayer money to pay for this working group.
“Not only that, but we haven’t heard anything from the Small Business Council since it was unveiled by Mr Nash two months ago. Mr Nash has also been silent, other than to tell us this week that he’s off to Australia to meet his counterparts.
“Small business owners might have thought a priority for this Government would be to listen to a group that makes up 97 per cent of all New Zealand firms and employs more than 600,000 Kiwis, given their confidence has slumped to a 10-year low. But that will have to wait.
“This is a Government stacked with career bureaucrats so perhaps it has difficulty reaching out to small firms at a grass-roots levels.
“By contrast, National is trying to listen – some 2400 small businesses responded to our survey and their biggest concerns were red tape, changes to employment law, rising taxes and costs, difficulty finding skilled staff and uncertainty about Government policies.
“Small businesses should be an urgent focus of the Government because their uncertainty is driving their decisions right now, like cutting jobs and winding back investment. National is listening because we respect small business owners and we recognise their contribution to our economy and our communities.”
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta needs to give certainty to the sector, instead of giving high-level keynote speeches that say nothing, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“Today was her third ‘keynote’ speech on the Three Waters Review. We keep hearing about her junket to Scotland, but the Minister is leaving the public and Councils waiting aimlessly for a decision.
“It’s getting embarrassing that the Minister doesn’t have any more details.
“There is already a sense of unease among Councils about who is going to pay for all of this. Will larger well-funded Councils end up carrying smaller Councils, and just how much cross-subsidisation is there going to be?
“Alongside these cost concerns lies uncertainty within timeframes and most importantly the impact on Council debt, given Councils will most likely lose control of their water services to some yet-to-be-determined water company.
“The Minister needs to be clear about exactly how ratepayers and Councils are expected to fund upgrades in an environment of such uncertainty. The last thing we want to see is Council set amongst Council.”
“Ratepayers are concerned that the cost and sheer size of the three waters upgrades will ultimately fall on them.
“Three waters services are lifeline utilities, critical to New Zealand’s economic security and prosperity, health, safety and environmental protection. That’s why National established the Three Waters Review to assess whether current local government practices and the system oversight are fit for purpose.
“With about $12.8 billion upgrades planned of three water infrastructure between now and 2025, The Minister now needs to get on with the job and deliver certainty.”
A report released today by the Local Government Business Forum highlights the need for local authorities to be transparent about what they spend ratepayers’ money on, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“This report is particularly timely with the Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill currently before Parliament which reverses National’s local government reforms that applied fiscal discipline to councils.
“By re-inserting the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-beings of communities into the Act, there will inevitably be rates rises as councils feel validated in untargeted spending – it essentially gives councils licence to do what they like.
“The Local Government Business Forum report is rightly calling for councils to provide simple information that shows ratepayers what they are paying for and how much.
“Homeowners, particularly those on lower incomes, deserve to know if their rates are being prioritised on pet projects, like murals of pop stars, over important roading and footpath infrastructure.
“Greater transparency will help ensure that councils make worthwhile spending decisions, and provide ratepayers with the information they need to challenge or question their council on its spending programme.
“At a time when Government policies are driving up the cost of living, New Zealanders understand more than ever that efficient public services and resilient infrastructure needs to be balanced with local councils’ strong financial management.”
As councils around New Zealand consider next year’s spending plans, families are bracing themselves to be socked with rising rates at a time when the cost of living is starting to increase, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“Homeowners nationwide are concerned at the plans of councils to increase rates without any reassurance that they are delivering value for money or improving local economic growth.
“Excessively high rates bills hurt ratepayers and their families.
“Christchurch City Council, for example, is meeting today to consider plans to increase rates by 17 per cent over the next few years. Such a large increase during a period of very low inflation is unjustified.
“This 17 per cent rate increase could be in addition to higher petrol prices thanks to the Government’s new regional fuel tax of 11.5 cents per litre that the council is also saying it wants to impose on ratepayers – one of 14 councils saying it wants the new tax.
“While Christchurch faces additional expenditure due to the ongoing earthquake recovery it has options other than major rates increases and it needs to seriously consider those and the impacts of any new costs on ratepayers.
“Local councils, like central government, need to show restraint before imposing additional costs and taxes on hard working New Zealanders.
“People are already hurting from the rising cost of living. Families will be over $100 per week worse off under this Government’s policies pushing up the price of petrol, rent, and groceries - combined with their stubborn refusal to provide tax relief.
“Communities understand that efficient public services and resilient infrastructure needs to be balanced by councils’ strong financial management and care for ratepayers’ back pockets.”
Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis is proposing a significant new cost on visitors coming to New Zealand to meet Labour’s election year promise to local government, yet he is woefully short on detail and doesn’t think his tax will make any difference, National’s Local Government Spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
Councils around New Zealand deserve better from Mr Davis and he needs to start answering questions with detail.
“When questioned in Parliament about whether he agrees with a recent report from Deloitte, saying that international visitors already make a proportionate tax contribution, he responded acknowledging that a visitor levy will contribute less than 0.8 per cent to the cost required to provide tourism infrastructure and said that ‘the international visitor levy isn't going to make any difference.’
“This is ridiculous and confirms that we have a Government who implements policy without proper analysis.
“If the Minister doesn’t think it will make any difference why is he increasing visitor costs with no benefit to them?
“Councils and communities all around New Zealand are counting on this Government to make good on their election promise to provide revenue to fund tourism infrastructure. It is interesting to see the Minister is now discrediting his own policy.
“The Minister is so vague on the costs of implementing the levy, he needs to explain why his Government is bothering with it”.