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Frontpage News - December 2020

Season's greetings from LGNZ President Stuart Crosby

Kia ora koutou katoa,

It’s fair to say that it’s been a tough year for everyone, including local government.  The challenges have been well-traversed by now – lockdowns, job losses and economic  uncertainty.

However, if we lift our heads up and look over the last 12 months, there have been a number of highlights and lessons that can guide us in 2021.

Among them, one bright spot stands out, and that was the a spirit of co-operation and trust that enabled New Zealand's strong response to the Covid crisis.

What we need to do now is take that spirit of co-operation into reforms that are happening across local government, particularly in Three Waters, resource management and climate change adaptation.

All indications are that 2021 will be a fast paced year, as we seek to deliver the infrastructure New Zealand needs to thrive and the policy reform that will enable councils to deliver the best possible outcomes for New Zealand.  We're confident that with strong partnerships between local and central government, and our communities, we can achieve this. 

On behalf of the LGNZ team, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Noho ora mai,

Stuart Crosby
President

 

LGNZ's top 10 moments of 2020

It's been a tough year, but there have been plenty of highlights - join us as we take a look at the top ten moments of 2020 for LGNZ.

10. Local government groups join forces to fight Covid-19
In March, the Local and Central Government Covid-19 Response Team was formed to address issues encountered by local government in dealing with the covid crisis.

Led by DIA, and supported by SOLGM and LGNZ, the response team delivered rapid advice to the minister and recommendations for councils, enabling elected members and council staff to ensure essential services were secured, and that our most vulnerable people were supported through the crisis.

9. Climate case studies drive adaptation action
Before the Randerson Report popularised the need for legislation to deal with climate change adaptation and managed retreat, LGNZ's climate change case studies clearly illustrated just how challenging it is for councils grappling with these issues, without the right policy tools and national guidance.

“Our case studies show that without clear direction from central government, and the policy tools and funding to match, councils and communities will be mired in litigation, uncertainty and greatly increased costs,” said then LGNZ President Dave Cull. 

8. Localism submissions reveal a new way to govern New Zealand 

In September, LGNZ released public feedback on its localism discussion paper, which found that New Zealanders are frustrated with our country’s highly centralised model of government, and want a greater say in the policies that affect their lives.

Roughly a quarter of submitters, while supporting the principle of moving decision making closer to the respective regions, wanted to see local councils increase their capacity and capability in specific areas before taking on further responsibilities.

7. Drinking water regulator Taumata Arowai launched
On the surface, the formation of a new drinking water regulator - Taumata Arowai - might not seem particularly exciting.  However, when you consider that it's something LGNZ has been calling for since 2015, then you might be able to understand its significance.

Given the Havelock North contamination review found that the previous regulatory system made no formal enforcement actions between when the previous drinking water regime was introduced in 2007, up until 2018, we think the formation of a new regular is cause for celebration.

6. MTFJ recovery programme delivers job opportunities
In June
, the Mayors Taskforce Jobs (MTFJ) launched a pilot programme, where four rural mayors worked to link up vulnerable youth with employment opportunities in their regions.

That pilot was a huge success, resulting in the Ministry of Social Development partnering with MTFJ and launching the programme across 18 councils, resulting in 300 employment outcomes to date.

5. LGNZ makes Briefing to Incoming Government public
LGNZ released it's Briefing to the Incoming Government earlier this month, with President Stuart Crosby identifying three intertwined areas within the local government portfolio that should be the focus for both LGNZ and the Government over the next three years.

“The future of local government programme is vital.  Reforms across the three waters and resource management, to say nothing of the health and disability reforms, are of such magnitude that they will likely change local government as we know it," commented Mr Crosby.

4. Standout council gets second AA CouncilMARK™ rating
Heading into their second CouncilMARK™ assessment, Waimakariri District Council were confident they could retain their AA rating, but knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Taking on the findings of their first assessment, over a 24-month period the council has continued to invest its efforts in broad community engagement, strong vision and strategy and efficient delivery of services, showing that councils can consistently deliver high performance for their communities.

3. Survey shows local political aspirants increasingly younger, female and Māori
Although many observers thought there were more young, female and Māori elected members voted in at the 2019 local elections, the limitations of the candidate enrollment form made this difficult to confirm.

However, the results of a survey of all elected members, conducted by LGNZ, confirmed what many suspected - with huge growth in the 18-40 age group, first time candidates, women and Māori elected members.

2. Strong local response to Covid displays community spirit
In many ways, local government's response to the Covid crisis highlighted the strengths of local democracy.

Not only did councils secure the essential lifeline services that were vital to implementing our successful lockdown, but they also pivoted a range of services, in distributing food and medication to those most in need, as well as providing pastoral support and guidance.

1.  LGNZ names new CEO and President
This year has been one of rejuvenation for both LGNZ and the wider sector, but it hasn't been without difficulty. 

After announcing his retirement in January, previous Chief Executive Malcolm Alexander delayed his departure to oversee the August's delayed AGM, where former VP Stuart Crosby and Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall were voted in as president and vice-president respectively. 

New LGNZ Chief Executive Susan Freeman-Greene was announced as Malcolm's replacement in June, and joined the organisation in September.

Beehive briefing sets out local government priorities

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has publicly released its Briefing for the Incoming Government, identifying three intertwined areas within the local government portfolio that should be the focus for both LGNZ and the Government over the next three years.

LGNZ President Stuart Crosby said that the briefing highlighted the need for big reforms across the three waters and resource management to be joined up, ideally in a ‘future of local government’ programme.

“As the closest tier of government, councils play a vital role in shaping the places that communities live, and promoting their wellbeing. This is a role that we know communities want to continue to play as the Government undertakes a number of major policy reforms.”

“To ensure that local say is retained, LGNZ has identified three waters, resource management reform and a future of local government programme as the focus areas for the next three years,” he said.

“The future of local government programme is vital.  Reforms across the three waters and resource management, to say nothing of the health and disability reforms, are of such magnitude that they will likely change local government as we know it.”

“We need to be proactive and design community representation in the reforms to avoid any unintended consequences, such as stopping people from having a real say is the policies that affect their lives.  This widespread reform provides a rare opportunity to not only ensure the status quo of representation is maintained, but to re-imagine the future role of local government in New Zealand.”

“It’s been more than 30 years since the last meaningful review of the sector, and LGNZ believes that now is the time to lock in the strengths of the existing system and address the weaknesses, while also enabling democratic decision-making at the appropriate level.”

Mr Crosby highlighted the results of strong local and central partnerships over the last year, the importance of the two tiers working to their strengths, and the need for joined-up reform of the sector.

“When local and central government partner with a common goal, great things happen.  Over the last three years we’ve seen this with the Essential Freshwater programme, the establishment of drinking-water regulator Taumata Arowai and our Covid-19 response, where central government enabled local government to furlough 5 million kiwis for months.  These are just some of the examples what we can achieve when ground-up meets top-down.”

“New Zealanders greatly value having a say at a local level, to shape their towns, cities and regions.  We want that to continue.  Key to achieving this is finding the sweet spot between local and central government.”

“Local and central government partnerships need to be formed early, in good-faith, and with a clear understanding of each’s strengths.  To my mind, that means local government’s on-the-ground experience and knowledge, combined with central government’s resourcing and policy-making heft.”

“We have developed a good relationship with Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta over the last three years, and we are looking to build upon that throughout this term.”

Given local government’s intersection with such a wide range of portfolios, LGNZ has shared the briefing with a range of ministers and local government spokespeople, to encourage conversation across the house. 

LGNZ’s Briefing for the Incoming Government can be found on lgnz.co.nz.

Council performance report highlights rates versus investment tension

Ōtorohanga District Council has received their first CouncilMARK™ report, finding a small council focused on core priorities, that is facing increasing pressure to meet growing community and infrastructure expectations.

CouncilMARK™ is an independent assessment programme that assesses how councils are performing and is designed to support individual councils to improve the service and value they provide.  Councils receive an overall performance rating from the Independent Assessment Board (IAB), from C to AAA, as well as commentary on their performance.

In delivering a CCC rating for the council the IAB found a fiscally conservative council with low debt and tight control of its operating costs, that needs to address future investment into its core assets including three waters infrastructure.

“Ōtorohanga is a low-debt, low-rates councils with one of the smallest employee counts that we’ve seen.  This has some obvious benefits, but there’s a growing need for the council to invest in key infrastructure and the staff who can lead this work,” said IAB Chair Toby Stevenson.

“They have a substantial asset renewal programme in front of them.  More staff capacity and strong reporting mechanisms, particularly around risk, are needed to progress this.”

“The council is grappling with the same tensions we see across the country, where both ratepayers and governance seek to hold down rates at the expense of capital investment to meet increasing community and national standards and population growth.”

“The upside is that the council has a great culture and a good understanding of the challenges to their three waters and road networks.  Now it’s about setting a strategy, making some hard decisions around increasing capacity and planning the work needed to ensure adequate service delivery levels for the next 40-50 years.”

“Ratepayers should be pleased that this information won’t be news to the council.  Both the mayor and the chief executive are aware of the need to invest in the council’s capability and infrastructure planning, and are working to address this.”

“The issue is that austerity shows up across most of the organisation.  For example their community engagement is quite informal, and while the Mayor and Chief Executive both speak regularly with the media, business and iwi would both like to see more regular engagement to ensure they’re heard.”

“Developing a communications strategy, building up their digital and social media, regular independent residents’ surveys and more regular iwi and business engagement is needed.” 

“Small councils can operate with the professionalism of a bigger organisation, while still meeting ratepayers’ expectations on rating levels.  Many of the challenges in the report are actually opportunities to build connection with the community, so the IAB expect to see Ōtorohanga District Council rise to these challenges,” concluded Mr Stevenson.

Mayors Taskforce for Jobs AGM shows power of local response during global crisis

The Mayors Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ) AGM has provided a bright spot in a dark year, as dozens of mayors, councillors, young people, community and social groups gathered to celebrate the Taskforce’s success in cultivating hundreds of job opportunities across provincial New Zealand.

Young people have been hit particularly hard by the Covid crisis.  Data from the Ministry of Social Development shows a 65 per cent increase of young people accessing Jobseeker Work Ready benefits over the last year.

This has made the work of MTFJ even more vital, as their agility, knowledge and proximity to local communities and businesses has made them the ideal connector between young people and jobs.

“There has never been a more important time for the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs.  When Covid hit, we knew it would be tough, and as Mayors we are ideally positioned to alleviate this by connecting young people with employment opportunities,” said MTFJ Chair and Otorohanga Mayor Max Baxter.

“Young people are affected by this crisis more than any other demographic, because they work entry level jobs within the tourism, retail and hospitality sectors.  They’re the first to be let go in an economic downturn, as we’ve seen this year.”

“AGM attendees heard from rangatahi whose lives have been transformed through Outward Bound or the Tuia Programme, as well as from mayors that have connected their young people with local businesses and from principals who have seen their students thrive.” 

“We’ve supported over 25 councils with trades graduations, to help raise the profile of some of our most promising graduates, and pushed hard for greater access to driver licencing facilities in isolated communities.”

“To have so many supporters in one room, and hear how MTFJ programmes have made a real difference in their communities, and for them to be so hungry for the next opportunity and keen to engage, it really fuels us to keep going.”

This year MTFJ has co-ordinated a range of programmes designed to either find work for young people, or help development their skills and confidence.  These include the Community Recovery Programme, a partnership between MTFJ and the Ministry for Social Development (MSD).  After a successful pilot with four rural councils, the Programme has now achieved over 300 employment outcomes to date across 18 councils.

“Every region has different industries, demographics and employment challenges.  The support and resource from MSD has enabled local mayors to smash through the red tape and connect over 300 jobseekers and employers.”

“We’ve seen mayors holding MTFJ speed dating for jobs events, going to schools, going to employers, and just knocking doors down to connect people with work and personal development opportunities.”

“The programme has combined central government’s resource with our mayors’ knowledge, relationships and experience on the ground, and the result has been hundreds more people in work.”

Other highlights for MTFJ were a full membership, with all 67 New Zealand mayors signing up to the programme this year, and a partnership with Dot Loves Data, who have provided Youth Employability Dashboards to all MTFJ members, presenting regional data to allow councils to better understand their local economic and emerging trends. 

“Getting every single mayor on board is a huge endorsement for MTFJ.  Essentially what we’re doing is giving them the support and data to help them maximise the talent of their local community,” concluded Mr Baxter.

Latest CouncilMARK™ report digs into regional council operations and culture

CouncilMARK™’s Independent Assessment Board (IAB) has released their latest report, on the performance of Bay of Plenty Regional Council, finding an organisation with some of the strongest iwi co-governance arrangements of any council, and a cohesive culture among both councillors and staff that is driving solutions for the region’s challenges.

CouncilMARK™ is an independent assessment programme that assesses how councils are performing and is designed to support individual councils to improve the service and value they provide.  Councils receive an overall performance rating from the Independent Assessment Board, from C to AAA, as well as commentary on their performance.

In awarding the regional council a ‘BBB’ grade, the IAB has praised the regional council for their strong spirit of public service, the operation of their ‘Quayside’ investment company and diversification of investment, and their ambitious programme of environment improvement.

At the same time, the IAB has highlighted that a number of areas that can be improved, even where the council are currently finding success.

“Bay of Plenty Regional has three really big things going for it.  They’ve got an experienced and balanced team of elected members, they’ve got competent staff who are motivated to serve the public, and they’ve got some of the strongest partnerships with iwi that we’ve seen,” says CouncilMARK™ IAB Chair Toby Stevenson.

“The Quayside investment arm is doing a great job managing their assets and they’re investing regionally, for example in Ōpōtiki Wharf, and research, innovation and education facilities in Tauranga.” 

“The next step for the council is to increase their performance measurement and accountability to further show ratepayers what they are getting for their rates.  They should look at the desired risk and return profile of their investments including Quayside Holdings.  Yes they are doing well financially, but strong investment risk analysis is recommended to ensure that this continues.”

Relationships between the Regional Council and iwi are vital, as the Bay of Plenty region is home to 39 iwi and 260 hapū, with 26 per cent of the population identifying as Māori. 

Acknowledging this, Bay of Plenty Regional Council has brought a multi-level approach to iwi engagement.  At an elected member level the council has retained three members that are elected off the Maori roll.  At a local governance level, the council has co-governance arrangements with local iwi – Rotorua Lakes for example – and at a staff level a specific Maori engagement strategy, He Korowai Mātauranga, which provides a framework for implementing Mātauranga Maori into council business and staff capacity.

“Very few councils can match Bay of Plenty’s efforts in partnering with local iwi, and they should be an example for all other councils,” continued Mr Stevenson.

The Bay of Plenty is a large environmental catchment, and includes a coastal marine area of almost 10,000km2, eight major rivers, five large estuaries, two harbours and the Rotorua Lakes. 

The report notes that the sheer size and complexity of the area means that for the council to get the greatest benefit from their limited resource, more risk-based assessment is needed.

“We think there is a benefit in the council targeting their limited resource to specific risks and time periods that affect the water quality in the region, for example increasing compliance efforts during periods of high rainfall.  A risk based approach would help them predict when and where breaches will occur.” 

“Of course these suggestions are changes in the margins, but when we’re talking about implementing long-term environmental change, every little bit of improved practice helps.  Overall the council is doing a good job and the community should be pleased with their CouncilMARK™ report result,” concluded Mr Stevenson.

LGNZ supports tough Tauranga City Council decision

Local Government New Zealand’s National Council says it supports Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta’s decision to seek the appointment of a Commission at Tauranga City Council, saying it is a tough call that puts the interests of the community first.

LGNZ is the peak body representing New Zealand’s 78 local councils, providing a unified voice for the sector and a pathway for continuous improvement through CouncilMARK™.

The Minister of Local Government made her decision on the basis of significant governance problems, and is satisfied that the appropriate intervention thresholds have been met. Tauranga City Council has ten working days to respond to the Minister’s letter of intention. The Council’s response will be considered before a final decision is made.

“There is disappointment in the local government sector that such drastic action has had to be taken, but it is a lesson to us all that dysfunctional behaviour won’t be tolerated because it undermines faith in the local democratic process,” said LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.

“Fostering a culture of good local governance is ultimately the collective responsibility of all elected members, and while the decision to remove the democratic representative tier of a council is never taken lightly, when it does it is appropriate that accountability is shared,” said Mr Crosby. 

“LGNZ looks forward to the restoration of full democracy in New Zealand’s fifth biggest city by population once these issues have been resolved.”

LGNZ welcomes Southland’s leadership on freshwater

Local Government New Zealand welcomes the leadership shown by a Southland group, comprising farmers, environmental NGOs, farming industry bodies and the regional council, who are working together to recommend new ways of making the intensive winter grazing regulations more practical and implementable.

Formed at a meeting in September with Minister for the Environment David Parker and Minister of Agriculture Damian O’Connor, the Southland Advisory Group was invited to look at the intensive winter grazing regulations and provide advice on how they could be implemented.

LGNZ President Stuart Crosby praised the leadership of the group, saying it shows the results of discussions focused on the practicality of the regulations – from the point of view of the farmer and also the regional council.

“We’re really pleased to see co-operation between such a wide array of organisations,” said LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.

“At the end of the day we all want to improve the quality of our freshwater.  The Southland Advisory Group has not only produced good advice for the Ministers to assist with that, but they’ve shown how this model is a good way to work through implementation issues.”

LGNZ Regional Sector Doug Leeder said that it was pleasing to see all the organisations work through the detail to find tangible ways to improve winter grazing practices.

“Policy is always better when it’s made with practical solutions in mind, with input from those on the ground,” said Mr Leeder. 

“To have farmers, Fish and Game, primary sector organisations, and the regional council sit down and find real ways to work out how implementation can work is great.

“I am advised by my Southland colleagues that the policy intent remains the same – the aim is to get swift improvement in water quality, and these recommendations will assist this to happen,” concluded Mr Leeder.

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