Local authorities are stewards of the money they raise from their communities, and the assets they manage on behalf of those communities. Local government managers understand their need to ensure that services are provided effectively, efficiently and sustainably.
The New Zealand system of local government is based on accountability to local communities. The contract between a local authority and its community involves the delivery of a ‘package’ of levels of service in return for taxes and charges. Publicly available performance data suggests that many New Zealand local authorities are already providing excellent services, effectively, efficiently and sustainably.
Underlying this piece of proposed legislation is the concept that local governments could be providing services more efficiently through shared services. However, SOLGM believes that many effective shared service arrangements are already in place, being progressed or being considered and that needs to be acknowledged. As well we believe the effect of proposed changes to the community consultation process around polls could have significant ramifications.
Local authorities do not compete with each other in the sense that private sector organisations do. One of the strengths of the local government sector is its ability to share capability. This takes many forms, from something as informal as councils assisting each other after a natural disaster. For instance Hastings District Council in the North Island (among other councils), assisted Christchurch City Council (in the South Island) when it was affected by the 2011 and 2012 Canterbury Earthquakes, to clear the backlog of resource consents that existed in 2013.
A more formal shared service arrangement, so-called Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) are local government arms length entities that provide a range of services from economic development activities to airports. These entities are useful instruments for service delivery and are already established in many New Zealand councils. However, the corporate model is far from the only means of achieving scale, our research indicates its not even the most common in New Zealand.
These shared service arrangements are a reflection of the nature of local government within New Zealand - organisations that work alongside one another to provide the best services for their communities. In our submission to Parliament’s Select Committee on the Bill SOLGM emphasised that it was important to be aware of the many existing and successful shared service arrangements and assess the current performance of the local government sector before implementing change that, as it stands, could impose unnecessary changes on communities while diluting established consultation processes, particularly around the use of polls.
In principle, changes in legislation have potential to provide a wider range of options to enhance the delivery of local services, and it can enhance the ability of local authorities and their communities to initiate their own solutions. SOLGM is supportive of change that is flexible, enabling and respects the rights of local communities to determine what arrangements work best in local circumstances. As it stands the changes in the proposed legislation appears to go some distance beyond this.
 SOLGM is the membership organisation for local government professionals in New Zealand. SOLGM consulted with all 78 New Zealand Local Authorities and has submitted on the Better Local Services Legislation and presented to Parliament’s Select Committee. You can find a copy of the submission here: http://www.solgm.org.nz/Article?Action=View&Article_id=60