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Frontpage News - February 2021

Greetings from LGNZ Chief Executive Susan Freeman-Greene

Kia ora koutou katoa,

A lot is happening across the local government sector.

We are pleased that much of our mahi is happening in partnership with central government for the benefit of our communities.  

At a local level, councils are working hard to deliver the services residents need to thrive. Councils are connecting Covid affected workers with employment through the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs partnership with the Ministry of Social Development, as well as pressing ahead with vital housing and transport infrastructure through the shovel ready jobs initiative.

On a national level, local and central governments are partnering to make sure future legislation will meet the needs of our people working at the coalface with our communities. We are pleased to be working with central government and Taituarā (formerly SOLGM) on policy that will help councils with their on the ground delivery, across resource management, housing, climate change, the three waters and more. 

Earlier this month we were delighted to see the Government introduce legislation to remove poll provisions from Maori wards.

When top-down resourcing and heft meets ground-up expertise and knowledge, New Zealanders benefit.   Read on to find out more about some of the great work happening in the local government sector, both in your region, and across Aotearoa. 

Ngā mihi nui,

Susan Freeman-Greene
Chief Executive

MTFJ celebrates Community Recovery Programme’s 500th rural job

The Mayors Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ) is celebrating a significant milestone, having guided 500 mostly young and Covid-19 displaced workers into sustainable employment through its Community Recovery Programme.

The Community Recovery Programme is a partnership between Industry Partnerships at Ministry of Social Development and rural councils around New Zealand, through MTFJ. Started as a pilot in mid-2020 with four small rural councils, the programme has now grown to include 23 rural councils, and has been hugely successful in supporting young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), particularly youth disproportionately impacted by the economic impacts of Covid-19, into sustainable employment pathways.

MTFJ is a nationwide network of all 67 New Zealand mayors, all striving towards zero youth unemployment in their districts, and holds a memorandum of understanding with central Government agencies to work together to achieve better outcomes for young New Zealanders.

“Mayors and councils know their rangatahi, their local businesses, their industries, and where the gaps are, and with the support and resources of the Ministry of Social Development, have risen to meet the Covid employment crisis,” says MTFJ Chair Max Baxter.

“MTFJ has been advocating for this level of support for many years, and the Community Recovery Programme shows that when you empower and enhance the capacity of councils, amazing things can happen.”

“We now need a further 650 placements to reach our target of 1,150 employment placements and are confident that we will exceed that number.” 

“The programme, in partnership with MSD is changing lives for those young people who are living in the regions. Working with MSD, we’re able to provide flexible funding that ensures our approach is individualised for each employer and young person, helping break down the barriers often faced when entering the workforce.”

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says the Community Recovery Programme has produced excellent results in the face of a big challenge, only made worse by Covid-19.

“The Community Recovery Programme has gone from strength to strength and I congratulate the participating councils and MTFJ on reaching this 500-job milestone,” says Minister Sepuloni.

“Our investment in councils is $11.6 million through MTFJ, and it’s paying off.”

“The MTFJ is a valuable programme which has grown from a four-council pilot in June 2020 to now involve 23 rural councils working with MSD to deliver an outstanding result.  It’s a fantastic example of a locally led solution delivering for young people in the community.”

“The 23 rural councils now engaged in the programme are all taking unique approaches to delivering the programmes and I look forward to seeing even more progress and job growth.”

Central Hawke’s Bay District Council is engaging with job seekers in its community by refurbishing an old campervan to create a mobile employment hub. Clutha District Council runs speed-dating events with employers across the wider Otago Region, with a goal of filling some 8,500 jobs identified by Mayor Bryan Cadogan and his Jobbortunities team.  

Mr Baxter continues, “The rural recovery is remaining strong, with 149 employment placements made so far through the programme associated with agriculture and primary industries. This is expected to increase as the programme continues.”

“With the four well-beings being reinstated into the Local Government Act, councils now have a clear mandate to deliver economic and social outcomes. The MSD funding is a key driver and is providing the ‘human’ element to council functions,” he says. 

“The Mayors Taskforce for Jobs partnership is proving to be one of my most engaging roles as Mayor of the Grey District so far. It is a great opportunity to be able to engage with our employers and our young people in our district,” says participating Mayor Tania Gibson of Grey District Council.

Local elected members reveal thoughts on public service

Amid a challenging period for local councils, a new LGNZ survey has found that elected members’ experience of public service largely meets their expectations, but that frustration remains around restrictive legislation, a lack of funding and hot topics such as three waters and housing.

The report, Rewarding, interesting, frustrating: How elected members feel about their time in local government, is based on a 2019 survey of elected members.  It complements a 2006 survey and aims to help LGNZ better support elected members through training programmes and advocacy campaigns.

Pleasingly, the number of elected members who said their experience met their expectations has risen greatly since 2006, from 61 per cent to just under 74 per cent.  Despite that, elected representatives have expressed frustration, with at 15 per cent describing their service as frustrating and thankless.

“New Zealand’s success as a society is closely tied into our ability to nurture and support good leaders across all spaces,” commented LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.

“The survey shows an increase in councillors coming in with a good understanding of what they can do and need to do, but also some frustration around red-tape, the relationships between governance and management, and access to information.”

“Overall, the results are good, and let’s be fair – politics is difficult.  Our society is thankfully full of diverse voices, and they all meet at the council table.  That is naturally going to result in strong discussions, and I don’t think the New Zealand public would have it any other way.”

“This report will help LGNZ understand where we need to be supporting our members and where we need to be advocating for better policy.  Councils are creatures of statute – they work within tight legislation, and that needs to be fit-for-purpose to get the best outcomes.”

“We can’t take our democracy for granted.  However, I think we do take our elected representatives for granted.  There’s a lot of work to do around understanding what elected members can and cannot do to fulfil their communities’ wishes.”

The top four challenges identified by respondents were funding and affordability, the relationship between governance and management, waste water and council capability, across both governance and managers.

The survey also asked respondents what changes were required to resolve them.  High on the list were better relationships with central government officials and policy-makers, civics in schools, a more even distribution of resources between central and local government and greater uptake of professional development among elected members.

“There’s no silver bullet solution to improving local government outcomes and the experience of elected members.  It will take a concerted effort across a number of areas, and this survey will help us with this work,” concluded Mr Crosby.

Survey highlights:

  • Seventy-four per cent of respondents stated that being an elected member met their expectations, up from 61 per cent in 2007;
  • Most respondents found being an elected member rewarding and interesting, but 15 per cent found it thankless and frustrating;
  • Most members (77 per cent) stated they had enough information when deciding to stand as a candidate, but only 60 per cent had enough information in the first three months of being elected;
  • Fifty-four per cent of respondents were satisfied with remuneration, while 46 per cent were dissatisfied, largely due to the level of responsibility, amount of time spent on council business and the belief that some members worked harder than others;

Verbatim feedback:

  • “A massive learning curve but incredibly rewarding now I’m pretty much up to speed”
  • “The role is getting more challenging and less enjoyable. There is so much pressure from ratepayers frustrated by rising rates.  Property values cannot continue to deliver core services as well as fund central government requirements, such as compliance, audit, consultation, plans, resilience, climate change etc.”
  • “It has been exciting, draining liberating and tense; I love looking forward on behalf of my family and seeing how I can support my communities’ future.” 
  • “Revealing, frustrating and Machiavellian with frustration being the biggest issue.”
  • “When we get it right it’s the best job in the world; when we get it wrong it’s the worst.” 
  • “Excellent experience that I would encourage others to do.”

South Taranaki DC safe pair of hands for ‘seven towns, one district’

South Taranaki District Council has received their second CouncilMARK™ report this week, retaining their BBB rating from 2017, and gaining praise for significant improvement in council communications and strategic vision.

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 across four key areas.  The reports are designed to be easy to read and understand.

In delivering the report, the IAB praised the ability of the council to maintain the integrity of the district’s towns, while striving towards the vision of ‘Being the most liveable district in New Zealand.’ 

This is particularly notable in the council’s Long Term Plan, which recognises and retains the identities of the towns, and improvements in the communications policies and practices since the 2017 assessment.

“The South Taranaki District Council is doing well across the board.  They’ve got a strong governance and management team, which was particularly noticeable during Covid-19,” said IAB Chair Toby Stevenson.

“The council’s strong long-term planning enabled it to act swiftly in ensuring payments to local suppliers and contractors, setting a rates’ freeze, and putting through voluntary salary cuts for the Mayor and Chief Executive.”

“But good planning is relies on clear, multi-channel communication with the community, and this is the area where they’ve improved most since the last report.”

“The councils has unabashedly harnessed online technology and live-streaming, which was well received during the Covid-19 lockdown.  They’ve also maintained good relationships with their local media, and come up with inventive ways to meet the community face-to-face, through their LibraryPlus facilities and open forum sections at all council and committee meetings.”

“Their communication approach has earned them an 86 per cent satisfaction rating in their most recent resident survey, which is testament to their work in this area.”

The development of South Taranaki has resulted in 16 cemeteries, ten independent water supplies, eight waste water systems, seven libraries and multiple sites of stormwater discharge to rivers and the sea.  The council has raised a significant amount of debt to create this infrastructure, and has prudently managed this to pay for it across multiple generations.

“Retaining the integrity of each of the seven towns is admirable, but does give rise to asset maintenance and expenditure challenges, having so much infrastructure spread so far.  But in saying that, the council does have a good line of sight to these challenges through its asset management plans for roading, water supply, wastewater, rubbish and recycling, coastal structures and other infrastructure.  The report makes some recommendations around improving compliance and enforcement strategies, and data collection, but on the whole their community should be pleased.”

“In particular the council has recently invested in water supply infrastructure that meets or exceeds the standards being debated nationally.  Naturally their council has taken on debt to pay for this infrastructure intergenerationally, but as the report finds they are managing this well.”

The report makes three key recommendations for increased council focus – processing time of building consents, measuring effectiveness of its compliance and regulatory efforts, and formalising its communication efforts with Māori/iwi. 

“The recommendations will aid the council in fine-tuning their work, but on the whole the team and residents should be proud of their council and region,” concluded Mr Stevenson.

Waitaki District Council goes under CouncilMARK™ microscope

Waitaki District Council has received a very positive BBB rating in their first ever CouncilMARK™ assessment, earning praise for their long term thinking and saving for future infrastructure renewals, while receiving a range of recommendations to address challenges around the region’s changing population, demographics and economy.

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 across four key areas.  The reports are designed to be easy to read and understand.

LGNZ President Stuart Crosby said CouncilMARK™ report shows a united council working towards a common goal.

“Waitaki ratepayers should be pleased that the council have both put themselves under the CouncilMARK™ microscope, and that they’ve come out with a very good result.”

“What stands out to me is that the assessor has found elected members and council staff have a shared, common purpose, to make a great district even better.”

“Having no debt and $35 million of investment assets puts the Council and the community in a strong position for the future, and they should be commended for that.”

The report finds that the council has an excellent balance sheet due to a long-term policy of rating for asset usage and putting those funds aside for the future.  That’s proven to be a wise move, as over the next decade around $200 million in capital expenditure is required for both asset renewal and meet improved levels of service, largely across three waters infrastructure.

“Waitaki District Council has managed its activities prudently over the years, and their decision to rate for depreciation has put it in a great financial position,” said IAB Chair Toby Stevenson. 

“On top of that, they’ve got real strength in their people, and well organised delivery of core road and water functions.”

“However, as with almost every area of New Zealand, the trifecta of a growing populations, increasing standards and aging infrastructure will challenge the council’s ability to keep rates down, and there will likely be increases to meet these challenges.”

The report finds that council staff have a good idea of the asset renewals required, but identifies that key systems need to be integrated, namely asset management and financial systems, which currently sit apart.

“Upgrading back-end systems so that they are speak to each other will help the council make the best possible decisions, and help them share the best possible information with the community,” continued Mr Stevenson.

“The council also delivers wide array of economic development activity, by leveraging their depreciation reserves to provide loans for community-oriented projects that may well not have happened otherwise.”

“There is community demand for this economic development assistance, and the financial position of the council is healthy, but the IAB has recommended a range of improvements, such as the consideration of an independent chair of the Performance, Audit and Risk Committee, and a full risk profile on lending,” concluded Mr Stevenson. 

To read the report, visit www.councilmark.co.nz

LGNZ supports Māori Wards amendment bill

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is delighted to see Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta announce the introduction of an amendment bill which aims to bring equality to the creation of local Māori wards.

LGNZ has been advocating for equality in the establishment of all wards for many years, by removing the poll provisions that only apply to Māori wards, including in an open letter to the Government in 2018 and more recently in the 2020 LGNZ General Election Manifesto.

“The existing poll provisions are unfair and inconsistent with every other ward type,” said LGNZ President Stuart Crosby.

“Either the poll provisions should apply to all wards or they should apply to none.”

The removal of the poll provisions has been championed by many current and former local government elected members including former New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd and former Gisborne Mayor and now Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.

“Having fair processes and frameworks for engagement with hapu and iwi is vital to delivering representative democracy.”

As well as amending the legislation to remove the poll provision, LGNZ has highlighted the need for legislative mechanisms to ensure that wards continue to serve communities well into the future. 

“We look forward to working with the Government and the Minister to ensure that the representation review process, which exists to ensure wards and constituencies provide fair and effective representation and reflect changes in population, meets the needs of Māori voters,” concluded Mr Crosby.

Regional Sector welcomes public transport emission reduction support

Local Government New Zealand’s (LGNZ) Regional Sector is welcoming the Government’s announcement today on public transport decarbonisation.

The announcement includes measures to support zero emissions public transport buses from 2025, and have the entire public transport bus fleet decarbonised by 2035, with the Government to provide $50 million to assist with this.

“As the providers of public transport services across New Zealand, regional councils have played an active role in emission reductions for a long time.  Today’s announcements gives significant support to our decarbonisation plans,” said LGNZ Regional Sector Chair and Bay of Plenty Regional Chair Doug Leeder.

Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) is one council that has ramped up the number of electric busses in their public transport fleet, and is planning for a fully decarbonised bus fleet by 2030.

“We know that the easiest wins in greenhouse gas reductions are in the transport sector.  The more we move our transport fleet onto modern fuel sources such as EVs, and our public out of private cars and onto public transport, the greener our future will be,” said GWRC Chair and Regional Sector spokesperson Daran Ponter.

“That’s why this announcement is really important, as it builds on the work that local authorities such as greater Wellington Regional Council have been working on, to decarbonise the public transport fleet and we look forward to working closely with the Government on this exciting initiative.”

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