Submissions to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee about the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill closed last week.
Out of the 427 submissions, one of the most interesting and well done was put forward by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.
The submission outlines the problems with defining core services, the emphasis on investing and undertaking commercial activities, operating within a defined fiscal envelope, removing consultation amongst a plethora of other problems with the bill as it stands.
On Local Government itself,
Local government has an impact on the lives of all New Zealanders, providing public goods and responding to diverse community needs. The role of local government is vitally important in people’s daily lives, in responding to the challenges facing communities and to specific new challenges such as climate change.
The environment is not even mentioned as a core service in the Bill!
On “Core Services”,
Defining core services is problematic because of the diverse needs of our communities, the way those needs change with time, and the importance of communities themselves deciding what is core for their region. It is local communities who should maintain the right to define their priorities. If anything is “core”, it is the right for electorates to set their own priorities. That is “core” to the democratic process and to accountability.
On operating within a “Fiscal Envelope”,
Local authorities also have a role to play in maintaining activity in the economy during an economic recession such as the current one. Had there been a cap on government spending at the national level during the recent economic crisis New Zealand could well have gone into much deeper recession or depression. That was internationally accepted. Local authorities can contribute in just the same way by, for example, bringing forward construction projects, or providing work for people thrown out of work (perhaps with central government financial assistance). At present they can fund this additional expenditure from borrowing, but under the capped funding proposal would not be able to react as swiftly.
We have seen with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in Colorado that this system is disasterous. Colorado has had to turn off street lights and relies on it’s taxi drivers to help out the police department.
On the removal on consultation,
Equally wanting “councils to decide for themselves” envisages councils as separate from the residents who elect them. The current Act sets out a process – not an outcome – which actually helps individual communities to reach unique solutions.
Like any form of representation, it should be “of the people, by the people, for the people“.
On Private-Public Partnerships,
The view that PPPs provide infrastructure and other assets more cheaply than direct taxpayer funding is erroneous. Private finance is rarely cheaper than government funding. In addition, the profits of private providers become an added cost to ratepayers or service users.
On privitising water services by stealth,
Globally, 90 per cent of the world’s water supply is publicly provided. The two countries that make the greatest use of privatised water services are the United Kingdom and France. In France, where multinationals Veolia and Suez supply 8 out of 10 citizens with water, many municipalities want to get rid of these commercial arrangements as soon as possible. Indeed, more than 40 French municipalities and urban communities including Paris and Grenoble returned water services to public hands during the ten years to 2008. Lack of transparency, poor water quality, continual cost increases, failure to expand and upgrade networks, and monopoly abuse were among the problems. The municipalities also have great difficulty monitoring whether the amounts in the billings correspond to the services performed and if fees paid in are really being used for restoring the pipes.
All of this makes for stark reading. Rodey Hide’s agenda is quite clear. Prepare publically owned infrastructure for sale. Move management of public assets into private hands. Limit participation in local government. Impose a sinking-lid funding scheme on local government so they are unable to provide the services New Zealanders expect them to provide.
You can read the entire CTU submission here [PDF].