The Briefings for Incoming Ministers, prepared by the permanent public service for new ministers at the turn of Government, make for fascinating reading. They reflect the central government bureacracy’s views on the priorities and issues that ministers need to address. And they have just been released for public viewing.
The first I’ve read is for the Minister of Local Government, Nick Smith. This passage caught my eye (italics are mine) …
“Addressing the following issues could help to make the local government system more robust and better able to adjust to future challenges and changing environments.
• The local government framework does not provide the tools needed to self regulate. Some districts are facing challenges, such as relatively high levels of debt and rates per capita, and are struggling to maintain the capability and capacity needed to perform their responsibilities efficiently. They may be vulnerable to shocks, and lack the resilience to recover if these occur …
• Communities also have few means to affect local authority decisions. Despite a generally strong local government commitment to consultation, people with an interest in their council can sometimes struggle to get clear information about the issues it faces and the potential impact on ratepayers and residents.
Even if the issues are clear, individuals and communities can find it hard to influence local authority decisions or hold those bodies to account. Elections are infrequent and are blunt accountability mechanisms. Seeking judicial review is expensive and addresses decision-making processes, rather than the substance of decisions. Providing more direct tools for people to review or influence local authority decisions could be useful, and could build on other measures to improve transparency, accountability and financial management in local government.
• Structural change is difficult. Reorganisation of districts and regions may help communities to adapt to changes in their economic, demographic and social circumstances. Making these changes is relatively difficult under the Local Government Act 2002 as a lengthy reorganisation process is prescribed. The infrequent success of locally-initiated proposals suggests the current legal process may be a barrier to communities achieving desired structural arrangements.”
“Reorganisation of districts and regions may help communities to adapt to changes in their economic, demographic and social circumstances.” What a concept!
While these are the views of mere bureaucrats, they provide a platform from which a minister can justify and drive change on ‘apolitical’ grounds.
Nick Smith (wearing his Minister of the Environment hat) has already signaled his disappointment with local government performance with respect to freshwater management. Who knows what further ideas might be inspired in him, given views like these from the Department of Internal Affairs?!
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