Rodney Hide’s biting review of local government, which signaled a drastic re-write of the Local Government Act to curb local spending and provide greater fiscal transparency, has been de-fanged by the National Cabinet.
What has emerged from Cabinet is a marshmallow.
The ACT party media release summarizes the reforms as follows:
- Councils being encouraged to focus on core services by amending section 12 of the Local Government Act (the power of general competence) to require councils to have particular regard to the importance of: infrastructural services; solid waste services; hazard and disaster management; libraries and recreation; culture and heritage services; and the performance of regulatory responsibilities and statutory duties;
- Simplifying council planning by merging the community outcomes process into the long-term council community planning process;
- Requiring councils to provide ‘plain English’ financial reporting;
- Pre-election reports that draw together existing council information in a readily accessible format and timely manner to help promote election debate.
The provisions for greater fiscal transparency are useful, but it is not clear that even those requirements will be in place before 2010 local body elections, as Hide had intended. And gone completely are any provisions for mandated local referenda on spending, as well as any actually restrictive and binding delimitation of local government “core” purposes.
One thing to watch, however, are controversial recommendations that would seem to encourage privatisation of water services, both supply and treatment. As reported by the NZ Herald, under the proposed changes, councils could contract “any aspect of the operation of all or part of a water service.” The Green Party is sounding alarms over these provisions. Said Green MP Sue Kedgley: “This has the potential to be hugely harmful to the public … This theft of the public’s assets is alarming and dangerous.”
Legislation will be introduced before year’s end to enact these proposals. Public comment will be sought during Select Committee deliberations.
P.S. Speaking of local government accountability, if you haven’t competed your Council Report Card, please do. Just click here and complete our survey online. Deadline is November 1.