Frontpage News - July 2020

News and views from LGNZ and the local government sector.

Frontpage News - July 2020

Greetings from LGNZ

Having spent four weeks in various levels of Covid induced lockdown, the importance of local facilities, infrastructure and indeed strong local democracy has perhaps never been higher in the minds of New Zealanders.

But it's no secret that there's huge pressure on local government finances in the wake of the Covid crisis, at a time when the delivery of local services is more important than ever.

A recent report from the Local and Central Government Covid-19 Response Unit estimates the sector will lose approximately $1 billion in revenue over the next year, with councils on average having lost around half of their non-rates income, which makes up about 40% of an average council's revenue.

Fittingly then, councils are looking closely at how they can reduce the burden on ratepayers, but also, and very importantly, co-invest with the Government on shovel ready projects that can assist New Zealand's economic recovery.

If that sounds difficult - it is.  As Councils re-write their Annual Plans to factor in the wide array of competing interests from their communities, hard decisions are being made to prioritise spending where it can have the biggest bang for community buck.

We know that across a range of assets, investment can't wait.  Key three waters, road and housing infrastructure needs either replacing or developing, to help create affordable housing for all New Zealanders, deliver clean drinking water, and remove waste from our homes. 

That's not to mention councils' work delivering vibrant town centres, awesome recreation facilities and libraries, and protecting our biodiversity and much more.

At LGNZ, we welcome the Government's announcement of co-investment in a range of projects.  But it also highlights the need for fair and sustainable funding at a local level, that can deliver the infrastructure and outcomes that local people deserve.

It's time to not only think local, and appreciate local, but for our central government policy makers to deliver a fair share of funding to the local projects that New Zealand needs.  

Ngā mihi,

The LGNZ Team

LGNZ names Susan Freeman-Greene as new CEO

Local Government New Zealand is pleased to announce that it has appointed Susan Freeman-Greene to replace outgoing Chief Executive Malcolm Alexander, who announced his retirement at the beginning of 2020.

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

“New Zealand’s local government sector stands on the precipice of change as councils look for new ways to lift the wellbeing of their communities amid some significant headwinds such as climate change, housing affordability and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“The sector has successfully faced similar challenges in the past, and key to this has been world class leadership at LGNZ. In recruiting for this role, Susan immediately stood out as this kind of leader, which is why I am delighted to name her as our new Chief Executive.”

Ms Freeman-Greene joins LGNZ from Engineering New Zealand, an organisation she has led since 2015. Trained as a lawyer, she practised law in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, has extensive experience as a professional mediator, and previously held senior positions at the Broadcasting Standards Authority, New Zealand Human Rights Commission and Department of Labour.

“I'm delighted to join LGNZ at this critical time. Local government sits at the heart of our communities and is vital to our social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being,” said incoming LGNZ Chief Executive Susan Freeman-Greene. 

“Right now, with funding and capacity constraints gripping even harder than usual, many of local government's challenges are exacerbated.  More than ever Aotearoa needs us all to work together - from rebuilding our economy, to ensuring we pull together in the pursuit of equality. Local government is central to these - and many other - issues.” 

“I am confident we can continue to build on our relationships with central government, and our diverse communities, to harness the strength, heart and unity of Aotearoa for future generations. I look forward to contributing to this important mahi.”  

Ms Freeman-Greene will officially take up the role at LGNZ on 28 September.

“I would like to expressly thank Malcolm Alexander for the visionary leadership, commitment to council performance improvement, and dedication to the pursuit of local democracy over his eight year tenure,” said Mr Cull. 

“His free, frank and sage advice was always appreciated by those who sought it, and he leaves behind him an institutional legacy that will ultimately benefit communities through the likes of CouncilMARK™, EquiP, and LGNZ’s Localism work.” 

“As someone who has left an indelible mark on LGNZ, we know he will be successful in his future endeavours, and wish him well on his journey.”

Pilot success sees Mayors Taskforce for Jobs programme launch nationwide

The huge success of a pilot programme of rural mayors connecting youth in their regions with local small businesses has led to it being scaled up around the country, across 23 more councils.

A collaboration between the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ) and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), the MTFJ Community Recovery Programme has helped rural councils assist small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) with recruitment, training and subsidies, to help them take on young workers or those who have been displaced due to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. 

The programme will provide up to $500,000 per rural council to create a minimum of 50 sustainable employment positions.

“The pilot was a real success across the first four councils, and that showed us it could work right across the country,” says MTFJ Chair and Otorohanga Mayor Max Baxter.

“Partnering with MSD is a big win for the Taskforce – it’s an endorsement of the work we’re doing and the belief that we have, that mayors can successfully connect youth and businesses.  This programme has big net benefits not just for youth, but for our entire country, both socially and economically.”

The programme focuses on NEETs, an acronym for young people not in education, employment or training.  At the forefront of redundancies due to Covid, the number of young people under 30 seeking unemployment support has rising from 4.1 per cent to 6.5 per cent, twice as much as those aged 30 to 64 between the months of February and April 2020. 

“Young people in rural communities tend to have limited access to services and skill development opportunities, for example, accessing a driver licencing facility, which is a barrier to employment.”

The high cost of youth unemployment impacts the potential contribution to economic growth and development in New Zealand.  Not only do the impacts of youth unemployment result in a loss of income, but also in ‘wage scarring’ which studies show is when a young person experiences unemployment early in life, it reduces their probability of future career prospects and potential earnings later in life.

“This is an exciting new partnership between local and central government that will deliver real benefits to our rural regions in their Covid recovery,” commented LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“It is in everybody’s best interest to support young people into employment. When young people succeed, so does the entire country.”

MTFJ holds a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Government, which outlines the joint intention to achieve better employment outcomes for young New Zealanders and the recognition that barriers to employment are best address at a local level.  The MOU is signed by the Minister of Employment Hon Willie Jackson, the Minister for Building and Construction Hon Jenny Salesa, the Minister for Youth Hon Peeni Henare and supported by MSD and other Government agencies. 

“Small businesses generate 28% of New Zealand’s GDP and employ over 600,000 people, accounting for 29% of our workforce.  When small businesses succeed and have confidence, they increase employment opportunities and overall income levels.” Baxter concluded.

LGNZ recovery fund to sponsor new sector development initiative

Local Government New Zealand’s National Council has announced the creation of an LGNZ Covid Recovery Fund, which will be used to deliver free digital training to support mayors, chairs and elected members in their post-Covid decision-making.

The Covid crisis has had a significant impact on local government, affecting every area of operations, from the provision of essential lifeline services such as drinking, waste and stormwater, rubbish and recycling, to the upkeep and maintenance of local roads, recreation facilities, libraries, and everything that makes our towns and cities the places communities love.

With reduced funding streams, councils are under increased pressure to reduce spending and lower rates, but at the same time have been tasked by central government to lead an infrastructure-based economic recovery and other initiatives.

In partnership with EquiP, the Recovery Fund aims to provide an ongoing resource that will further assist councils and leave a lasting legacy of deep institutional knowledge.  To make this happen, LGNZ will sponsor the first 12 months of the new platform, making a wide range of digital training modules and webinars free for elected members over that period, from next week.

LGNZ President Dave Cull highlighted that now more than ever, professional development and guidance is essential.

“Experience tells us that in times of economic hardship, training budgets and professional development are among the first items to be cut, but ironically it is during times of crisis that councils really rely on the skills and knowledge they gain from training.” 

Councils are making hard decisions about spending right now, which means it makes sense for us to utilise some of LGNZ’s financial reserves, and find a way to reach elected members digitally. Good governance doesn’t just happen, it comes from education and improvement, and we want to champion that.”

To help EquiP target the most pressing areas of need and guidance, a sector advisory group will be formed, comprising elected members, officials from rural, provincial, metro and regional sectors, and Te Maruata, community board and Young Elected Member (YEM) representatives.  The resources will be available on a new revamped, easy to use and interactive digital platform.

“Under this new model, every month elected members can expect to receive access to new, substantive content that tackles the biggest issues and governance topics facing the local government sector.  Having this content and the viewpoints of some of New Zealand’s leading experts streamed directly to our members will provide real benefit to councils and communities.”

First CouncilMARK case study finds excellence in humble local authority

How does a small provincial and rural council, understated in demeanour, conservative in many areas including financial risk and investment, and humble in its dealings internally and externally, deliver industry best practice in key areas of leading and engagement?

That's one of the questions raised and answered in the first case study released by CouncilMARK™, the sector's independent assessment and continuous improvement programme.

Launched in 2017, CouncilMARK™ is led by an Independent Assessment Board which provides rigorous, transparent assessment of council performance, as well as a pathway for continuous improvement for the sector.  As an addition to the Programme, CouncilMARK™ has set out to develop case studies which focus on sector best practice, as an opportunity for other councils to learn from each other.

The first case study looks at the factors that saw the Independent Assessment Board award Hauraki District Council with ’Stand Out’ in the Governance, Leadership and Strategy priority area – equivalent to an ‘A’ grade rating.  Focusing on eight key insights, the report finds a council that leaves nothing to chance, and which right from councillor induction seeks to build a team that delivers for Hauraki's small, but active resident base of 20,000.

"It was clear from Hauraki’s CouncilMARK™ Report that they have a really strong culture," says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“What this case study does is delve deeper into not what they’re achieving, but how they’re doing it.”

"What struck me when reading this case study is that they don't leave things to chance.  The councillors are very strong on the fundamentals of being well-researched governors, the staff run a very good induction programme, and everyone has a clear understanding of what their roles are which leads to a strong, respectful relationship between the councilors, the chief executive and his team.”

"As a whole they do the small things well and the big things follow.  Right down to the seating plan in their council chambers, they maximise every advantage so no one is unclear about what is needed to be successful."

Since its establishment in the early 1990s Hauraki District Council has been served by only two CEOs. The 2019 election saw the second and long-term Mayor retire and replaced with the District’s third Mayor, himself a long-serving councillor and Deputy.

The report therefore rightly looks at how the council is handling succession and a relatively new elected member group.

"I think every council will be interested to read about Hauraki's succession and change over the last year," continued Mr Cull.

"The way they allocate portfolios gets alot of buy-in from councilors and it really incentivizes strong community engagement.  That’s a theme running through this case study – the strong community ties that both the councillors and the staff have, whether it’s getting out to events, talking with ratepayers and businesses, and the authentic conversation the council’s social media channels.” 

"The value they put on listening also comes through strongly.  Everyone knows their role, and respects each other’s roles, so that discussion can be robust and everyone knows they’re being listened to.  That culture flows through the council and most importantly can be seen in the way councillors listen to their community." 

"Their CouncilMARK report received a standout grade for engagement, so learning more about that in the case study was really interesting."

Budget kicks recovery heavy lifting to Covid fund

LGNZ has welcomed Budget 2020, which allocated significant funding to a number of important initiatives from a local government perspective.  However many of the questions related to how the Government will kick start economic activity and address major challenges like climate change and housing affordability remain unanswered.

The announcement of a $1.1 billion investment to create 11,000 environment jobs in the regions was singled out by LGNZ as an important initiative that would support employment in the regions while also delivering a conservation dividend.

The additional allocations to health, social services and wage subsidies were also welcomed, recognising that these investments would go a long way to help alleviate the pressure placed on communities by the Covid-19 shutdown and the resulting economic shock.

LGNZ however noted that in many key areas Budget 2020 appeared to be missing in action, particularly stimulus related recovery investments, climate change and housing, choosing instead to leave these until later.

“I congratulate the Government on delivering a budget that will provide critical support to many New Zealanders struggling with the effects of the Covid-19 shutdown – the measures outlined will help households stay afloat in difficult times,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“However it leaves those looking for further detail on how the Government intends to get the country truly back onto the road to recovery wanting. We anticipate that those announcements will be made in due course, but we would urge the Government to do so quickly.”

“Without certainty, households, businesses and other organisations, like local government, are likely to hold back from making investments that could aid the pace of our economic recovery.”

In making these future investment announcements, Mr Cull said the Government would have to carefully consider how the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund (CRRF) is spent.

“This budget is largely silent on how we are going to address climate change mitigation and adaptation.  We know these existential challenges are heading our way, and communities want to see public money spent on initiatives that better prepare us to meet them.”

“We also know that our housing affordability problem hasn’t disappeared, and critical investment in infrastructure will be needed to unlock land for development.”

“These are areas where councils have a significant role to play, because ultimately the effects of climate change and housing unaffordability occur locally.  And to really move the dial on the infrastructure led recovery will require a much closer working partnership between central and local government and a willingness to try new ways of doing things.” 

“We fully acknowledge that this is a challenge, but for our part the local government sector is fully committed to doing whatever it can to help restore our country’s economic footing in a way that makes us more resilient and robust to future shocks.”

Targeted measures to improve freshwater welcomed

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has welcomed the Government’s announcement of a set of targeted tools to improve the quality of freshwater.

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

“We support the outcomes that the Government and public seek, which are to lift our freshwater quality and protect the species that live in our rivers, lakes and streams,” commented LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“The announcement shows that the Government has responded to the call from regional councils that the proposals need to be right-sized and workable on the ground.”

“Research clearly shows that the issues facing our freshwater catchments vary nationally, and that our councils and landowners need tools that target the most pressing issues they face.  This announcement helps with that.”

LGNZ Regional Sector Chairman Doug Leeder said the engagement process had worked well.

“It’s been pleasing to see iwi, NGOs, local government, industry and central government in one room to develop these solutions, so that’s a credit to the process.  It’s resulted in a number of improvements, including a more robust framework for mandatory farm plans, and a more workable timeframe to make these improvements,” said Mr Leeder.

“It’s also highlighted that there’s still considerable work to do, particularly around allocation and iwi rights.  We support Te Kāhui Wai Māori in asking the Government to address these issues.”

“Councils have been very conscious of the economic challenges, as these reforms require major investment for rural and urban communities. The Government’s package remains ambitious and implementation will not be easy and will take time, but it is progress we need to make together as a country.” 

“The Government came to the party with substantial funding in Budget 2020 for non-regulatory initiatives, and with this sort of support, we think the Essential Freshwater proposals will strike the right balance between improving freshwater and helping our economy to recover in a post-Covid world,” he continued. 

Local Government’s Regional Sector are welcoming an announcement today of over $162 million in central government funding for 22 regional and unitary council Jobs for Nature projects, saying the strong support is an endorsement of the return on investment councils can provide for both our economy and environment.

Regional Sector welcomes Jobs for Nature investment 

Jobs for Nature is a programme of work which seeks to address major environmental needs and create over 11,000 jobs to stimulate New Zealand’s post-Covid economy.

Regional Sector deputy chair and Nelson City Council Mayor Rachel Reese says the 22 projects have the potential to deliver huge environmental benefits, as well as create an estimated 500 jobs in the first year.

“We’re very pleased that the Government is supporting regional and unitary councils to undertake these vital projects which will improve freshwater quality, enhance native ecosystems and deliver major planting and pest management and restoration programmes.”

“This support shows the value that Regional Sector projects can offer New Zealand’s communities and environment.”

In late April, regional councils provided a list of 302 projects, with a total estimated funding requirement of approximately $2 billion. The successful projects were selected because they demonstrate clear and immediate job creation, significant environmental outcomes, Iwi and community engagement and/or partnership as well as regional spread.

“From addressing sedimentation issues, to pest and weed control, re-vegetation, riparian planting, erosion mitigation and even setting up a conservation cadets system, these projects address many environmental needs, while creating 500 jobs in the first year, and over 2,000 job opportunities across the lifetime of the projects.”

This funding injection provides a huge opportunity to accelerate work that the sector already delivers on a day to day basis, including progressing the objectives of freshwater management regulatory reforms.

“Regional and unitary councils are coming to the table with around $30 million for these projects, so there’s real community skin in the game here and the Government’s funding helps turn this local mahi into a reality.”

Integrated and sustainable land and ecosystem management or whole of catchment approaches delivered through partnership are the ideal model for delivering and scaling-up environmental enhancement projects.  This approach has been a core part of how regional and unitary councils deliver on-ground action.

“Across New Zealand there are going to be a lot of happy people. Not just councils, but iwi, landowners, and a wide range of community groups who have been involved in developing these projects.”

$100 million in funding will go towards restoration of Northland’s Kaipara Harbour.  The biggest harbour area in New Zealand, Kaipara Harbour is facing degradation from sedimentation and nutrient pollution.  Using the funding, work will be undertaken to reduce the annual average sedimentation.

“The funding for these Regional Council projects is greatly needed across New Zealand and will go a long way to aiding our post-covid economic recovery.”

Government flood protection funding recognises scale of national issue

Local Government New Zealand’s is welcoming the announcement of 150 projects included in the $3 billion Covid Response and Recovery Fund, and highlights the $210 million for climate resilience and flood protection projects as a stand-out investment that is well-needed across New Zealand.

“The announcement recognises the value of our flood protection network, the challenges of climate change, and that this is a national issue that deserves national support,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“Flooding is New Zealand’s most common natural disaster, and is being exacerbated by climate change induced storm events.  Last year we saw a number of devastating floods hit both the North and South Islands."

Research commissioned by LGNZ’s Regional Sector showed successive investments in river management and flood control assets, such as stop banks and weirs, had unlocked billions of dollars in economic value over several decades. 

Both central and local government assets have benefited, with around 1.5 million hectares of New Zealand’s most productive land, and over 100 towns and cities protected by 364-river management and flood protection schemes.

“Councils have worked together to show the huge national economic benefits that flood protection provides, of over $11 billion a year, and that it deserves national, central government funding.  We’re pleased the government has listened.”

Central Government investment into river management and flood protection projects stalled after the 1989 local government reforms, leaving it up to local ratepayers to develop and maintain.

Communities, largely through regional councils, have continued to invest $200 million a year in these schemes, but without central government support this critical infrastructure has will not keep pace with growing flood risks.

The Regional Sector’s 2019 report, which makes the case for greater co-investment in river management and flood protection schemes, can be downloaded here.

LGNZ events

LGNZ AGM: Wellington - Friday 21 August 2020

Visit the LGNZ events page for more information.

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