by Eugenie Sage
The Minister for Local Government said on Morning Report last Friday:
I think there is a role for local government to undertake economic development within their regions. It’s contributing to the creation of jobs and that’s contributing to the wellbeing on that community.
I agree with him on this point but must say that I was left somewhat confused because this Minister is the one who is currently working to change the purpose of local government by ripping that very same wellbeing from the Local Government Act.
Let’s set aside for a moment the issue of environmental, social and cultural wellbeing, and just look at the issue of economic wellbeing that Minister Carter refers to.
Councils have a major role in promoting economic development. In 2011, local government spent $35 million to support regional tourism initiatives. Tourism is New Zealand’s second largest export sector and employs the equivalent of one in 10 people in the workforce. Will the removal of the promotion of the “economic, social, environmental and cultural wellbeing” as part of the purpose of local government allow such funding support in the future? Or will it have a chilling effect on any council spending which strays beyond the traditional “rubbish, rates and roads?”
The Regional Tourism Organisations of New Zealand said that the lack of definition of “local public services” in the new purpose statement for local government could result in “unintended adverse consequences for tourism and regional economic development” because it is “ill-defined and ambiguous”.
Many submitters, including the Auckland Committee of the New Zealand Law Society said the new purpose would create legal uncertainty and risk legal challenges to local authorities spending on non-infrastructure programmes.
Local government currently helps fund regional economic development agencies such as Venture Southland. In 2012-13 Venture Southland plans to work with 4,500 businesses, facilitate eight strategic projects in 10 industry sectors, complete 250 business assessments, and facilitate 30 business investments proposals.
So does the Minister want local authorities to support such work and will the new purpose allow for this? Or does the Minister just want local authorities to spend up large on National’s pet projects such as irrigation schemes such as Central Plains Water in Canterbury and Ruataniwha which would be unaffordable without subsidies from the public purse?