Local authorities are the mechanism through which communities make decisions about matters of local and regional concern. The nature of these matters will vary according to the characteristics and circumstances of each community. Some are dealing with problems caused by population growth and increasing numbers of visitors while others confront issues of static or declining growth and a lack of employment opportunities.
Citizens expect their councils to be concerned about local matters and take appropriate action, either by themselves or in partnership with central government, iwi and the voluntary sector. Addressing what are, in many areas, intractable issues will need innovative approaches and LGNZ will support councils that wish to promote more innovative ways of providing social services. The work of Gisborne, Far North and Rotorua Lakes District Mayors who are promoting the concept of demarcation zones will be supported and, if implemented, evaluated to identify lessons for wider application. Specific issues that have been brought to the attention of LGNZ include housing and community safety.
Safe and healthy communities
Local government is New Zealand’s second biggest provider of social housing, owning approximately 11,500 social housing units, most of which are the results of investments made during the period when the Government provided low cost loans to enable councils to provide pensioner housing in order to free up the Housing Corporation to focus on families and people with special needs.
Despite this significant contribution, current policies, namely the inability for councils to be community housing providers, prevent local government from playing an ongoing role. Councils wishing to continue as social housing providers and address housing need in their communities are faced with the need to find a sustainable financial model. Councils can also play other roles, from advocate to broker, using their popular mandate to bring agencies together to create a more integrated approach to social housing provision and address gaps.
The same applies to all social services. It is important that councils have the opportunity to provide government agencies with feedback on the performance of publicity funded social services in their areas. It is important that policy makers in Wellington are given feedback on whether or not their policies are working on the ground. Local innovation to ensure social services meet local needs with out duplication is important.
The standard of housing in New Zealand is poor with many people living in rental homes that are damp, cold, and prone to mold. Current legislative tools available through local and central government are inadequate to address the problem. Unhealthy home environments have significant impacts on the health of people living in them and community quality of life. Addressing this issue requires a national response, such as setting minimum standards for rental housing.
Community safety is an issue of vital interest for councils as areas which are perceived to be “unsafe” are likely to experience lower levels of social cohesion and economic investment. When asked to rank issues that are most important to themselves and their communities safety is always one of the top. Yet over recent years rural councils in particular have been highlighting what they perceive to be a decline in local policing and increased community concerns about crime.
LGNZ welcomed the Government’s decision in early 2017 to significantly increase the number of Police and earmark at least 140 of the new staff for rural communities. It is important that the rollout of the new recruits addresses those areas of greatest need and is provided in a way that strengthens confidence in the Police and improves perceptions of safety. LGNZ will work with the Commissioner of Police to help ensure local communities’ need for on the ground policing are met.
What LGNZ is looking for
- A policy framework that recognises the role councils play in social housing and treats councils on the same basis as community housing providers.
- A stronger policy and regulatory framework for improving the standards of rental housing.
- Policing that is responsive to the needs of local communities.
- Opportunities, in partnership with central government, for local areas to develop innovative and place-based approaches for dealing with social issues.