Frontpage News - May 2019

Published: May 13, 2019

News type: National news   

LGNZ are working to ensure that our regional, rural, city and district councils are having their say at the highest levels of government.  We're now almost half way through the 'year of delivery', and the central government policy machine is ramping up.

In this edition of Frontpage News, you'll read about what LGNZ and our communities are doing to ensure they get a fair say on tourism, education, climate change, recycling and more.

Greetings from LGNZ

New Zealand is a collection of distinct regional economies, so it makes sense for our councils and communities to have meaningful input into the policies that effects them. 

All too often policy is delivered with a one-size-fits all approach that holds our regions back from delivering the environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes that our communities seek. 

However, the government are beginning to see the merits of supporting regional policy differentiation - the implicit support of a tourism levy in Queenstown is evidence of that.  We believe that across a wider range of sectors, including education, there's merit in the implementation of bespoke policy making - read on to find out about our proposals for a stronger New Zealand. 

Reinstated well-beings endorse councils’ community focus

Local Government New Zealand is delighted to see the Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill pass its third and final reading in Parliament, reinstating the four aspects of community well-being – social, economic, environmental and cultural – into the Local Government Act.

While councils have largely continued to deliver across these four areas, as mandated by their constituents, the amendment provides official restoration of the four well-beings to the Local Government Act, which were removed under the last government. 

It is a significant show of support from the Coalition Government for the on-going work of councils to lift the well-being of their communities.

“The reinstatement of the four well-beings is formal recognition that councils have a significant role to play in lifting the quality of life of our people, and the health of our environment,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“As the operational arm of government, councils deliver infrastructure vital to our economy, such as roads, three waters and housing infrastructure, cultural and social amenities such as events, parks, libraries, pools and balance the built environment with the natural environment through the RMA.” 

“The reinstatement of the four well-beings acknowledges that through all these services, and more, local government has a broader role in fostering liveable communities, than simply providing ‘core services’.”

“We commend the Government for passing this Bill, and look forward to partnering with them on the big issues facing New Zealand.”

Local government encouraged by national recycling plan

LGNZ is encouraged by the announcement of a national plan to address New Zealand’s growing recycling issues, citing the need for more detailed work to truly deliver a sustainable circular economy.

Unveiled at LGNZ’s offices by Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage, the plan is based on eight recommendations from the National Resource Recovery Taskforce set up last year, including to improve kerbside and commercial recycling, reduce contamination of recyclables and increase onshore processing of plastics and other materials.

“Feedback from our communities makes it clear that recycling is a one of the most important issues for them, and councils have been working to improve collection and education around recycling,” says LGNZ National Council member and Mayor of Wellington City Justin Lester.

“New Zealand’s small population has traditionally meant that onshore recycling hasn’t made economic sense, and we have employed the technology and scale of other countries to assist with this. Those markets are now closed to us, which means it’s time to manage our plastic recycling onshore.”

“That's why LGNZ welcome this report as an important first step”

“The recommendations make it clear that we need to work together as a collective to develop recycling and design solutions that lead to a more circular and waste efficient economy. But we need to work carefully through the detail to ensure that waste producers face the true costs from their activities in order to change behaviour. We won’t get this outcome if we subsidise these costs across the broader ratepayer base.”

Rush to reform education sector risks regional disaster

Across New Zealand, institutes of technology and polytechnic (ITPs) and Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) play key roles in producing the unique packages of skills that our highly diverse regional economies need to thrive. 

Institutes of technology and polytechnic cater to 335 schools by providing specific regional skillsets through trade academies.  Other communities recognise that many skills are better taught and learned in a real life work environments, and ITOs lead the Gateway programme, overseeing 13,500 school-leaver placements from about 350 schools each year.

That’s why the Government’s rush to reform New Zealand’s ITPs and ITOs are a big concern for New Zealand’s regions.  Although local government does not have a formal role in the provision of vocational training in New Zealand, as stewards of community wellbeing councils know the importance of good educational and vocational outputs.

This Government has expressed its desire for stronger partnerships with communities. However on the evidence of their reform of this sector, as well as number of others, they are failing in this desire in both policy design and operational terms.

The bottom line is that the Government has not made a sufficient case for the wholesale reform of the ITP and ITO sector, particularly the merger of 16 polytechnics and 11 ITOs into one organisation. 

From LGNZ’s perspective, the reform is a solution looking for a problem.  Indeed, the Tertiary Education Commission’s report on vocational training limited its recommendations to ITPs, stopping well-short of reform of the ITO sector. In this light, the Government’s proposal looks like a significant overreach given the current problem definition and the information provided to support it.

Make no mistake - LGNZ acknowledges the challenges faced by the sector, particularly around the financial viability of some ITPs, and we support incremental reforms that remedy this situation. 

However, the Government’s proposed amalgamation will effectively wipe out areas of excellence in an attempt to fix those ITPs that are struggling, while also introducing a significant amount of organisational disruption to the part of the sector that does seem to be working, namely ITOs.

The Government’s own analysis concedes that nine ITPs are not at risk of failing under the current circumstances (56 per cent), where five are considered a high risk (31 per cent), and two considered to be of lesser risk (13 per cent).

Polytechnics, such as the Southern Institute of Technology, the Otago Polytechnic, the Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) and others, are excelling in the current environment. This is due in no small part to good management, a close alignment between vocational education services and employer needs, and supportive policies that have made the regions in which these ITPs are based attractive places to live while studying.

At LGNZ, we are strong supporters of the concept of subsidiarity; that in many cases decisions should be made by the level of government closest to the people they affect.

We believe that local people and businesses who know their local needs best, and their input will speak to the factors that most enable their economic success. Indeed, international data bears this out, with OECD country comparisons showing a strong correlation between decentralised decision-making and per capita measures of productivity, a measure on which New Zealand ranks at the back of the developed world pack.

It is through this localist lens than LGNZ has reviewed the Government’s proposed vocational reforms, and strongly opposes the model being put forward. In LGNZ’s view it will overly centralise vocational decision-making power in Wellington, and as a corollary decouple training from employers, and reduce the ability of communities to have a meaningful say in the skills the vocational system delivers.

LGNZ suggests that the Government would produce better outcomes by focusing on the underperformers in the ITP sector, and then engage on a programme of wider reform to better align the various parts of the education sector. In doing so, LGNZ would urge central government to look more widely than Anglo Saxon countries, and emulate the example of the Swiss and German models of vocational training.

Any reform needs to build on the success of the models that are thriving and not risk a loss of innovation, growth and regional identity.

Vote 2019 highlights the important issues that matter to New Zealanders

LGNZ has started a conversation on social media with New Zealanders through its Vote 2019 campaign, aiming to raise important issues around housing, transport, water, tourism, business and economic development and local amenities and services.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says that by raising key issues affecting communities around the country, LGNZ is hoping it will encourage residents to get more involved in conversations about what matters to them, and how they can get involved.

“Our aim is to grow citizens’ understanding of the breadth of services delivered each day by local governments across New Zealand, and the impact those services have on their everyday lives.  By making that connection, and providing information through the CouncilMARK™ programme, we hope to inspire New Zealanders to take a more proactive stance on the issues they care about in their communities,” says Mr Cull.

LGNZ’s most recent Facebook post has asked New Zealanders whether what needs to be done to increase housing supply.

Not surprisingly, the feedback revealed that New Zealanders would like to see a system that both trains the next generation of skilled tradespeople and grows affordable housing, without over-burdening ratepayers with the costs of failed construction companies.

Mr Cull says LGNZ is encouraged by the initial results and looks forward to more discussion on subsequent issues raised throughout the campaign.

“The response we’ve received so far is very encouraging.  New Zealanders are passionate about their communities and it’s great to see residents getting involved in the conversation about what matters most to them,” says Mr Cull.

The social media campaign is part of the wider Vote 2019 campaign, with the vote2019.co.nz website providing information for voters, candidates, media, and other key partners, as well as offering campaign background and research statistics. 

LGNZ’s Vote 2019 elections campaign aims to lift nationwide voter turnout in local elections and increase people’s engagement with their local council.

“Our goal is that, for the first time in nearly two decades, local government will be elected by a majority of New Zealanders,” says Mr Cull.

Will the Government take a sip of localism with a tourism levy?

The old adage is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It is an adage that the local government sectors lives and breathes.

For years LGNZ have been trying to lead central government to the idea that we need let councils share in the economic benefits of tourism if we want to increase the provision of infrastructure and grow the sector as a whole.

So the announcement of a referendum to gauge public support for a Queenstown visitor levy is a considerable step forward, which could provide the impetus for government to take a sip of a sustainable infrastructure funding model.

The levy aims to tackle a substantial challenge for Queenstown, where just 26,000 ratepayers pay for the infrastructure used by over three million visitors a year.

For residents, a visitor levy will be an obvious solution to their infrastructure issues.  Queenstown has an international reputation and massive volume of visitors, which is encouraged by central government’s tourism policy.  However, since all the tax benefits of this activity flow to central government – GST, PAYE and profit taxes - Queenstown ratepayers are not incentivised to provide the infrastructure to those visitors.

Quite simply, it’s about time that central government gave local government a stake in our booming tourism industry, which would incentivise the development of infrastructure like the governments of other premier tourist destinations do.  Think France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and cities such as Venice, New York and Paris.

Whether it’s through a proportion of GST, or the ability to collect revenue from the approximately 5.5 million bed nights spent in Queenstown, there has to be an incentive for ratepayers to develop tourism infrastructure.

Queenstown's ratio of 34 international visitors per resident is among the highest in the world, and the current ability of the council to provide essential services such as roads, footpaths, three waters, parks, toilets and tourist facilities is extremely stretched.

It's clear that one-size-fits-all central government policy is not working in Queenstown.  Although non-binding, a referendum held by the council will provide a firm yardstick of ratepayer appetite for a solution.

LGNZ believes that tourists will be happy to pay for their fair share of the infrastructure that they use, as they do in many other parts of the world.

But it will take a significant ideological shift from the government, who have largely delivered their policy in sweeping, nationwide strokes, regardless of whether they work for one area better than another. 

We believe there is a way to grow industries like tourism, without damaging our communities and environment.  However, better funding and planning is needed, and that means creating the right policy incentives at a local level.  Here’s hoping that the government listens to the people of Queenstown and provides them policy that works for both visitors and ratepayers.

Environment Aotearoa yardstick welcomed by LGNZ

The latest report providing metrics on the state of New Zealand’s environment is being welcomed by LGNZ’s Regional Sector as a way for councils to focus their efforts where it can make the biggest difference.

Compiled by the Ministry for the Environment using Statistics NZ data, the Environment Aotearoa 2019 Synthesis Report uses data largely sourced from regional councils, and provides a yardstick for the state of the environment across a number of areas, including ecosystems and biodiversity, climate change, land-use change and freshwater and marine.

“Local government takes environmental guardianship very seriously.  As one of our four key well-beings, it is at the centre of what makes our communities such great places to live,” says LGNZ Regional Sector Deputy Chair, Rachel Reese.

“The report adds to the extensive data that councils, particularly Regional Councils, gather.  It gives us a greater national picture of not only where we need to focus, but also where improvements are being made, which we can continue to build upon.”

“Obtaining accurate, nationwide data from our networks is vitally important for councils – we are driving change that takes time, so it is crucial that we can monitor our progress and measure environmental progress.”

Regional councils provide both regulatory oversight through regional plans and the RMA, as well as delivering initiatives and programmes to deliver positive environmental outcomes across New Zealand.

“As the report makes clear, one of the major challenges we have to overcome in the environmental space is improving the quality of the information at our disposal. Too often we find that there’s missing data, limited knowledge of the effects humans are having on the environment, or an incomplete understanding of this process.” 

“This is an area we are addressing through partnership programmes, which will help us make sound policy decisions that lead to better environmental and economic outcomes.”

Zero Carbon Bill welcomed by LGNZ

LGNZ welcomes the introduction of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill as a necessary step towards meeting our international obligations to reduce greenhouse gases in our economy.

Until now, mitigation measures were largely left to the exchange trading schemes and individual commitments from organisations, but without targets these have lacked the necessary incentives to change behaviours.

“Local councils have long known that they must do their part to both lower their own emissions, and encourage the same in their communities,” says LGNZ Vice-President Stuart Crosby.

“That’s why we’re welcoming this Bill, as it provides further support for the work councils have been doing, notably through the Draft sector position on mitigation and the Stocktake of local government mitigation activity.”

“The vast majority of councils have also signed the Local Government Leader’s Climate Change Declaration, which has displayed real leadership from the sector, so we commend for providing national direction through the Zero Carbon Bill.” 

Climate Change is one of four flagship projects in the 2019-22 LGNZ Business Plan.

“LGNZ look forward to inputting into the Zero Carbon Bill legislation process, and through the actions outlined in our business plan we will continue to advocate for greater support around adapting to climate change, as well as mitigation.”

Government's climate change inaction putting ratepayers on the hook

Ratepayers may face hefty legal bills due to a lack of government action on adaptation policy, according to a leading legal opinion by Jack Hodder QC.

LGNZ, the peak body representing all territorial and regional councils in New Zealand, commissioned the opinion to gauge the litigation risk that councils face by choosing to recognise or ignore climate change-related risks in their decision-making, particularly as they relate to planning decisions.

Mr Hodder’s research found an increasing number of climate change-related law suits being brought by individuals and communities frustrated by a lack of progress on climate change internationally, and reasoned that it is only a matter of time before similar actions are taken in New Zealand.

A key risk raised by the report, titled “Climate Change: Who’s Afraid of Creative Judges,” was the absence of national climate change adaptation guidance in New Zealand, effectively leaving it to the courts to decide how to remedy climate change-related harms.

LGNZ President Dave Cull noted that Mr Hodder’s report shone a vital spotlight on the tough position councils are in: On one hand there was no legislative framework to support decisions that reflect climate change risks. On the other hand, ratepayers – through councils – potentially faced significant costs through legal action by not adequately factoring climate risks into their decision-making, that subsequently result in physical or economic harm.

“Without a national climate change adaptation framework, councils are in a grey area when working out how to protect their communities,” said Mr Cull.

“LGNZ engaged Mr Hodder to give councils a better understanding of their climate change litigation risks when operating in this grey area, and what could happen if the courts start setting legal precedents rather than the government.”

“Without the appropriate national standards and legislation, the government is at risk of allowing a situation where the courts will develop legal rules, which would likely result in ever-changing requirements and tensions that would hinder proper planning and implementation of adaption measures.”

Mr Hodder’s opinion highlights that unless central government steps in, increased climate change litigation will consume councils’ - and ultimately ratepayers’ – resources and time, which would be better spent on ensuring the well-being and prosperity of their communities.

“To the Government’s credit it has started to focus on the problem, thanks to the efforts of Climate Change Minister James Shaw, but we need more action in the adaptation policy space, and urgently.”

“A stark truth that we have to accept is that New Zealand is a climate-taker, not a climate-maker. While we have a clear duty to do our part to reduce our carbon emissions, New Zealand accounts for less than 0.2 per cent of global emissions, which means whatever our efforts in the mitigation space we will not move the dial in any meaningful way.”

“What we are certain of is that we will bear the effects of a warming global climate in New Zealand, which we’re seeing already. Unfortunately adaptation policy has not received the same attention as mitigation measures. Mr Hodder’s report makes it clear that these two areas need to receive equal attention from central government at a minimum.”

The legal opinion commissioned by LGNZ complements its recently released report on sea level rise, titled “Vulnerable: The quantum of local government infrastructure exposed to sea level rise,” which found that as much as $14 billion of local government infrastructure is at risk from rising sea levels.

In addition, local government’s world-leading work in climate change adaptation was showcased by the OECD in a recent report, titled: “Responding to Rising Seas”, which examined the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazard Strategy being led by a cross council group in the Hawke’s Bay region.

The paper can be found in the publications section of lgnz.co.nz.

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