Our house is flooded. My insurance company referred to it as ‘a leak’, but it was more like a horizontal geyser. A ferocious jet of water drilled through a wall and shot 3 metres across the room for perhaps a month. A sodden, squelchy, mouldy mess greeted us on our return home from abroad.

The clean-up is a somber affair as personal effects are examined and mostly thrown into the skip. ‘They’re just things’ I tell myself, but there are strange, emotional reactions to their loss. I feel a pang of grief as I discard a tie I bought in London 20 years ago and wouldn’t wear again anyway. Similarly, the split and soggy album covers. Some of the indie music of my adolescence feels like part of my soul; some just a youthful error of judgement.

Even the undamaged items contain much that I’ll drop off at the Sallie’s. 

All this has been a useful process in working out what is important. It strikes me as a question that needs to be asked in so many domains.

The upcoming local body elections are a chance for candidates and councils to debate what is important and perhaps even to listen to their constituency. I usually get to talk to a few candidates in the lead up to the election and it’s interesting to get a sense of their motivations and priorities. 

While many local body entities seem to have struggled to find candidates this year, we don’t seem to have that problem locally where an entertaining campaign lies ahead. In my Hastings electorate there are 14 candidates for 7 vacancies, in Flaxmere 4 candidates for one vacancy and in the Takitimu Māori Ward 7 candidates for 3 vacancies. I feared Napier City would struggle to attract candidates, given the staffing and culture issues that they are struggling with, but for the mayoralty and in every ward, they have more candidates than vacancies. 

Democracy is alive and well in Hawke’s Bay. The abundance of candidates means that many of them will not be successful. It takes courage to stand for council and contestable elections make our democracy work, so we should be grateful to all the candidates. But what will they do, once elected?

Local Government NZ is one place where councils might seek some leadership, but reports from their recent conference were not encouraging. There seemed to be much discussion about diversity, inclusivity, youth, iwi, and climate change.

All these things may be important, but perhaps not as much as finding a solution for people that are sleeping in the park. Historically the homeless were almost always burdened by mental health or addiction problems, but that is no longer the case. Housing and healthcare are more important than anything else right now, but LGNZ seem not to see it as a priority.

Curiously LGNZ seem not to even want a functioning democracy. The $1500 a pop conference was promoted as including the private sector and non-government agencies, but they then proceeded to reject the registration of the Taxpayers Union and the Auckland Ratepayers Alliance. An inclusive democracy needs to include elements of society that disagree with you so that you can ‘challenge and be challenged’ as the event website suggests. Ultimately the conference had no representation from ratepayer groups.

Both HDC and NCC have made some progress on the housing front, but they’d admit it’s not enough to solve the problem. I suspect Hastings CEO, Nigel Bickle has been working his Wellington contacts to get homes built, for which he deserves credit. Housing has mostly been the domain of central government, but ultimately our councils have an obligation to the community to act where they see a desperate need and have been working with Kāinga Ora to do so. [Editor: BayBuzz will report in detail on this in our next edition.]

The other area that is in serious trouble is healthcare; particularly mental health. Regrettably the closed border policy has deprived us of many skilled workers. The government is in the process of revolutionizing our healthcare sector and why you’d do that during a staff crisis and global pandemic is beyond me. 

Even though we’re seeing the demise of the DHBs I still think that councils should get involved in trying to attract and retain healthcare staff. The mental health crisis is extremely serious and it’s difficult to secure treatment for patients beyond pharmaceuticals. It’s not the hospitals’ fault. Their staff are overworked, stressed and many have resigned to seek better work conditions in the private sector. 

As our economy cools, stresses will increase. I’ve heard many people already saying they cannot service the doubling of interest rates they’ve experienced. The demand for mental health services will continue to rise and the crisis will deepen unless urgent action is taken.

Perhaps the most important thing councils can do is to have focus. Their greatest error in the past has been to seemingly do anything that is politically popular. It’s time to say ‘No’ to a whole lot of things. 

I’m not alone in this thinking. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was regularly quoted as saying a key reason for his success with the company was his ability to say ‘No’ to many good ideas and to prioritise carefully. Similarly, billionaire Warren Buffett reportedly once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘No’ to almost everything.

I look at projects like the Opera House redevelopment and the associated retail stores. All this will look like a good idea in 20 years, but it has been an expensive and ambitious project. The new i-SITE looks like an error of judgement to me. When it was in the centre of town it was much more accessible, while it now looks very quiet to me. 

The challenge for local government is that, when you’ve done things for many years, the public are incensed when you stop doing so. Many councils seem proud to announce that they are ‘keeping rate increases under 10%’, but that figure is too high for most ratepayers. 

Our regional economic engine is slowing – the wine industry has had its worst vintage in decades, the apple sector is also having a challenging year, and even the golden child of kiwifruit has hit a banana skin. On top of this a forecast 15% fall in house prices is going to make us feel a whole lot poorer. 

A tough term lies ahead for councilors and some hard decisions will need to be made. Councils need to take a hatchet to their budgets and to focus intently on the most crucial issues. 

So, I challenge each candidate: Tell us three specific budget cuts you would make.

You do that and I’ll get BayBuzz to publish your response. 


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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for that! I look forward to seeing the responses from our elected representatives; and then the follow through. It’s too easy to spend other people’s money.

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