Frontpage News - November 2019

Published: October 22, 2019

News type: National news   

Greetings from LGNZ

While the early stats showed that competitive local elections were on the cards around the country, and it appeared that more young people and women were putting their hands up for local government, it's fair to say here at LGNZ we weren't counting our chickens before they hatched.

So with the elections now over, we're extremely pleased to confirm the 'diversity burst' that many commentators observed, shattering the perceptions of a mono-cultural local government sector.

As you'll read in this edition of Frontpage News, more women and those under 40 have been voted in, at both mayoral and councillor levels, and it appears from early observations that a wider range of our ethnicities and communities are also being represented in local government.

While we've still got work to do in gaining a more representative sector, in LGNZ's view, we're on the right track.

As LGNZ President Dave Cull commented, "This is not a politically correct nice to have, but key to robust decision-making that promotes greater well-being among New Zealand’s diverse communities.”

So to all our readers, and communities, well done for getting out there, having your say, and voting in the local government that you believe can change your area for the better.

Record number of new mayors and young members revealed

Voters in the 2019 local elections have elected the largest number of new mayors in 30 years, with 26 candidates set to don mayoral chains for the first time later this month.

This injection of new blood into the sector has been mirrored in other areas, with record numbers of younger candidates and women joining local bodies across the country.

“The number of new mayors really challenges the narrative that incumbents can pretty much walk back into office,” says LGNZ Principal Policy Advisor Dr Mike Reid.

A preliminary count reveals the number of elected members under 40 years of age has increased by at least a third. 

In particular, the cohort under 30 has doubled.  At 18 years of age, the youngest is School Strike 4 Climate Organiser and now Kāpiti Coast District Councillor, Sophie Handford, while Rotorua Lakes and Nelson City voters have each elected a 19-year-old representative on their councils – Fisher Wang and Rohan O'Neill-Stevens.

Early analysis has also revealed an increase in under 40s on rural and regional councils, reflecting increased youth concern around environmental issues and climate change.

“Young people are thinking globally and acting locally, and recognise that standing for and getting involved with council is one of the best ways to make positive change in their communities.”

The number of women in local government appears to be up, but will need to be confirmed once all members are sworn in.  However, the number of women winning mayoralties has increased to 20, up from 13 at the last election.

Standout areas for women on council include the Hawke’s Bay region, where four out of five mayors are women, the East Coast, where three of the five councils have new female mayors and Wellington City Council where 64% of the elected members are women.  Currently, 38% of elected members are women. 

“The number of women wearing the mayoral chains has increased, and early indications suggests the number across councils, community boards and local boards will too.”

Similarly, while the Wairoa District Council has confirmed that five of their six councillors are of Māori descent, demographic and ethnic information for all elected members will only be known once members disclose this information after they are sworn in.

The average voter turnout at territorial authorities across the country was 48.3%.  The 20 councils with the highest voter turnout were:

  1. Chatham Islands Council  - 68.8%
  2. Westland District Council - 63.90%
  3. Grey District Council - 63.1%
  4. Kaikoura District Council - 61.3%
  5. Mackenzie District Council - 60.5%           
  6. Hurunui District Council - 57.1%
  7. Buller District Council 56.9%
  8. Carterton District Council - 56.3%
  9. Central Otago District Council - 56.2%
  10. South Wairarapa District Council - 55.6%
  11. Ashburton District Council - 55.0%
  12. Timaru District Council - 55.0%
  13. Horowhenua District Council - 54.5%
  14. Central Hawke's Bay District Council - 54.5%
  15. Waitaki District Council - 54.3%
  16. Thames-Coromandel District Council - 53.60
  17. Invercargill City Council - 53.0% 
  18. Opotiki District Council - 53.0%
  19. Waitomo District Council - 52.6%
  20. Taupo District Council - 52.1%

LGNZ tables plan to fix freshwater

LGNZ today submitted its package of recommendations to central government on how to shape up the Essential Freshwater Package into a fit for purpose regulatory package that will deliver the public’s expectations of sustainable, swimmable, healthy waterways.

The submission, which was led by regional councils, strongly supports the outcome the Government is looking to achieve, the focus on freshwater ecosystem health, and regulation to manage contaminants.

However, the local government sector, which comprises all district, city, unitary and regional councils in New Zealand, is calling on Government to walk back from the proposed one-size-fits-all regulatory approach, and partner with local government to right-size the freshwater reforms.

“One of our biggest concerns with the package is that it oversimplifies the problem with freshwater quality by assuming the issues are severe and urgent everywhere, and so we need regulatory intervention on a national scale,” said Chair of LGNZ Regional Sector Group, Doug Leeder.

“We absolutely acknowledge the challenges facing freshwater bodies, but the data shows that different waterways face different problems. That means we need tailored solutions to restore these ecosystems to a healthy state, not broad-brush regulation.”

The LGNZ submission identifies where further work is necessary, highlights areas where a cautious and adaptive approach to regulation is needed, and sets out a number of policy solutions aimed at restoring New Zealand’s waterbodies.

“We’ve long held that while the current regulatory framework give councils the flexibility they need to tackle freshwater quality issues, we’ve lacked the regulatory tools and in many cases the resources to make the necessary changes fast enough to meet community expectations.”

“As proposed, the package gives councils the tools, but takes away the flexibility – we think the solution is to have both.”

The submission is supported by 13 case studies, which extensively examined the impact the proposed package would have on a variety of regions, from Northland to Southland.  These case studies underline that local context is everything when it comes to understanding impacts.

The submission is further supported by an independent economic analysis of the Government’s Regulatory Impact Assessment, and a distributional analysis to assess how the costs will affect different communities across New Zealand.

“One of the key things to get right as we develop freshwater regulation is to ensure we take communities with us, whether they are urban or rural,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull. 

“They need to have the confidence that the new rules will actually translate into measureable improvements on the ground, not just more red tape and reports that do nothing to deliver on what we all want to see – healthier waterways and greater environmental sustainability.”

LGNZ’s submission, and supporting material is available here.

Women candidates win over voters in local elections

Local Government New Zealand today confirmed what many local election commentators have observed; that more of the voting public cast their ballots in favour of women candidates than ever before.

Women now make up over 42% of all local government elected members, above the percentage of women board directors in New Zealand’s private sector (24%) as well as the number of women in Parliament as at the most recent election (38%).

“Looking at the candidate lists ahead of the election, we suspected that there would be an increase in the number of women holding local office, and that has been confirmed today,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“Across New Zealand women play a vital role in every facet of our society, be it social, business, or cultural, and the local election results show that they see councils as an important channel through which they can meaningfully influence the well-being of their communities.”

“LGNZ is extremely pleased to see an increase in women representatives – it debunks the narrative out there that councils are the sole preserve of the pale, male and stale.”

Auckland’s local boards feature the highest representation ratio, with women making up 51% of the membership, followed by community boards nationally at 46%.

The level of gender diversity on local councils is a sign of real progress, given that in 2010 the percentage of women elected members was 30%. In addition to the increase of women mayors, from 13 to 20, the percentage of women councillors now stands at 40%.

“We’re proud to have strengthened the diversity of the sector in this election, but we recognise that there’s still a lot of work to do in this area, as well as in getting greater youth and ethnic representation around the council table.”

“This is not a politically correct nice to have, but key to robust decision-making that promotes greater well-being among New Zealand’s diverse communities.”

A number of councils and boards now feature at least an equal share of men and women around the table, such as the Wellington and Nelson city councils.  Seven of the eight Tararua District Council members are women and the Twizel community board is comprised entirely of women. 

“More people are realising that local government is where you can have the most direct impact on your community, and that’s resulted in more candidates standing, and more diverse representation, which is great to see,” concluded Mr Cull.

New LGNZ podcast – Housing our New Zealand

LGNZ have launched a brand new podcast, bringing together housing experts from around the country to tackle the big issues from a local government perspective.

In ‘Housing our New Zealand’, LGNZ’s first podcast series, Housing 2030 project manager Thomas Simonson is joined by a range of housing experts from across the country, talking about the big challenges councils and communities face, and the solutions that could change the way we live. 

Developed with an elected member audience in mind, the podcasts will cover a range of topics, including how we increase our housing supply, deliver better social and community housing, as well improve the condition of our existing housing. 

The first three episodes are out now and are available on a number of platforms, including Anchor, Spotify and Google. Listen to them now – no sign-up required.

New report finds provincial council tackling national challenges

Manawatū District Council has received their first CouncilMARK™ report, which shows a rural council tackling the challenges of a growing population and changing environmental and regulatory landscapes.

CouncilMARK™ is an independent assessment programme that provides communities and key stakeholders a snapshot into how councils are performing in the key areas of governance, financial decision-making, service delivery & asset management, and community engagement.

It helps identify where councils are doing well, where there is room for improvement, and tracks progress to lift performance over time.

The report shows a relatively new and capable council and chief executive delivering sound operational performance.

“Manawatū is a stable council performing particularly well in their service delivery and asset management,” says CouncilMARK™ Independent Assessment Board Chair Toby Stevenson.

“They have a good understanding of the levels of service required around key areas such as three waters, roading and recreational spaces.  They monitor and report on this frequently, and subsequent community perception surveys reflect that, with high levels of satisfaction in this area.”

Investment into a new wastewater treatment plant and an associated wastewater centralisation programme highlights the council’s strong record of prudent yet innovative investment.

However, like many rural councils around New Zealand, Manawatū is wrestling with the challenges of significant population growth and a changing regulatory landscape, particularly in regards to freshwater and climate change, while relying on a small ratepayer base.

The report states that better alignment of the council vision, strategy and operational plans, along with further professional development and assessment of the governance group, would help address these challenges.

“While service delivery is strong, a broader understanding of the Council’s finances at the elected member level would be beneficial.  Improvement in this area would also foster better integration between the asset management plans with the overarching vision for the district.”

“They’re on the right track, however. With a broader, integrated strategic approach, greater regional benefits could be had in the form of service delivery efficiencies and financial benefits.”

LGNZ President Dave Cull praised the council for committing to the programme, and putting all aspects of their operations under an independent spotlight.

“It’s not easy being assessed through CouncilMARK™, so I commend Manawatū  District Council for committing to the programme.” 

“They’re showing their ratepayers that they’re serious about transparency and improvement in every area of their operations.  The report shows they’re in a good place, and that continuing to upskill and look at the bigger regional picture will deliver real benefits to the region.”

The report can be found on the results page of www.councilmark.co.nz.

Climate change risk framework a start, but local focus needed

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is calling the release of the National Climate Change Risk Assessment (NCCRA) framework a good first step in balancing New Zealand’s response to climate change.

The sector has long argued that central government needs to put adaptation policy on an equal footing with mitigation policy, particularly as many communities around the country are already feeling the impact of climate change related events.

“The announcement is an acknowledgement that the effects of climate change on New Zealand are already baked in for at least the next century in the form of more severe storm events, unpredictable weather patterns, and rising sea levels,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“That’s why it is vital that we as a country act now to put the right regulatory rules and systems in place ahead of time, so that our communities can be more resilient in the face of these challenges. Today’s announcement is a welcome first step towards putting these regulations in place.”

LGNZ, the peak body representing all 78 district, unitary, and regional councils, however stressed that the framework is merely the start of the process, and to be truly effective it needs to embrace a bottom-up focus.

“We know from places like South Dunedin, Tangoio and the Kaipara Flats, that the impacts of climate change related hazards and risk factors are place specific in nature, even if the root of the problem is the same,” said Mr Cull.

“A national picture snapshot of climate change related risks, which the framework will enable, is nice to have, but to be truly useful the focus needs to be much more granular. Only then can we have meaningful conversations with communities about how to respond in the face of disaster events.”

“While recognising that this is a first cut and an iterative process, the framework needs to be significantly simplified in future if it is to be useful to councils. If it requires the resources of a city to complete, then many smaller councils will find it challenging if not impossible to resource the work needed and meaningfully play their part in New Zealand’s response to the effects of climate change.”

“LGNZ is already focussing on this work, and we look forward to working with the Government and officials on getting the policy focus right sized.”

LGNZ recently released ‘Exposed: Climate change and infrastructure guidance document’, which provides councils with a consistent toolkit through which to assess community asset exposure to sea level rise and inland flooding. 

This complements LGNZ’s other reports in the climate change policy space, including ‘Vulnerable’ which looked at local government infrastructure exposed to sea level rise, and a leading legal opinion on the litigation risks councils face related to their climate change decisions titled ‘Who's afraid of creative judges?

PM praises trade graduates

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is congratulating the best and brightest vocational students who are graduating over the next two months as part of a jointly run programme between the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ) and the Industry Training Federation (ITF).

MTFJ is a network of New Zealand’s mayors that strives to increase employment opportunities for some of our most at-risk youth, and has partnered with ITF to steer these young people into vocational training programmes, to equip them with the real-world skills they need to succeed in the job market.

In total, 25 councils are either hosting or co-hosting a graduation ceremony with ITF, seeking to promote and recognise trade and service careers, which while vital to our economy, as well as being well paid, are often overlooked.

Ōtorohanga District Council and Waitomo District Council are co-hosting a graduation ceremony this evening, with many councils holding ceremonies over the next two months.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern highlighted the need for trades and service careers to reduce the country’s skills shortage.  It is estimated that New Zealand will need more than 56,000 workers by 2022 in the construction industry alone. 

“We need to fill these roles to keep our economy strong and sustainable.  You are absolutely essential to us and to New Zealand’s success.  Never underestimate the contribution you will be making,” Ardern said.

Trade and service careers are of particular interest to MTFJ as they provide an ‘earn and learn’ pathway in industries which while booming, are facing a shortage of tradespeople.

MTFJ is a nationwide network of 66 out of the 67 Mayors in New Zealand, striving towards all young people being engaged in training, employment or education.

“Trades and service industry qualifications require a lot of hard work to achieve, and we think that’s worth celebrating,” says MTFJ chair and Ōtorohanga mayor Max Baxter.

“It’s important to provide the opportunity for local communities to celebrate the achievements of their local people, who will undoubtedly become our future workforce and community leaders.”

“Through the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs, we want to collectively change the perception of trade and service careers, and show people both finishing, and considering these pathways, that they’re seen and valued by our communities.”

Chief Executive of the Industry Training Federation Josh Williams said “It’s wonderful to see so many councils putting their hand up to host a ceremony this year.”

“This is about industries and communities celebrating the efforts and achievements of people who run local businesses and provide essential services.”

“It’s always nice to finish up a big challenge with a celebration,” continued Baxter.

A list of MTFJ Industry Training Graduations can be found on the MTFJ website.

To watch Prime Minister Ardern congratulate the graduates, click here.

Other frontpage news