Eugenie Sage

Bigger not always better – keeping the local in local govt

by Eugenie Sage

I was thrilled to speak at the Local Democracy Coalition’s (LDC) meeting in Wellington yesterday. It was only the Coalition’s second meeting, and brought together the Mayors of 14 Councils from around New Zealand to share their views and experiences on supercities.

The LDC was recently formed by local councils opposed to the National Government’s amalgamation plans for local government in New Zealand – they believe that control of local matters should be in the hands of locals and are working to make sure power is not taken away from local people.

I welcome the establishment of the LDC, although it’s a shame that they’ve been forced to come together because of the Government’s approach to local government. National seems intent on undermining local democracy and concentrating power in the hands of a few, despite it being so important for New Zealanders to have a say on the issues in their cities and towns that impact them on a daily basis.

Instead of seeking to dominate and interfere with local government and blame it for the housing crisis, central government needs to respect local government as a vital part of our democracy and work in partnership.

At the meeting, I talked about the Green Party’s support for strong and effective local councils, effective  representation and our concerns around amalgamation.

The Auckland super city model is not appropriate elsewhere. There are now more MPs in Auckland than there are elected councillors. While Aucklanders can also elect local board members, boards have limited decision making powers and are only responsible for spending a fraction of the City’s budget. Local boards cannot levy rates, they cannot employ or remove staff, they cannot hold or dispose of property, they can’t make bylaws. They have primarily an advocacy and a recommendatory role.  This combined with the limited accountability of big council-controlled organisations means citizens are less able to influence critical decisions about the provision of services.

Rolling out the Auckland Super City model of one unitary council and weak local boards to replace existing and competent councils would centralise power in the hands of a few. This is why we’re strongly opposed to the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill No 3, currently before Parliament, which enables the Local Government Commission to replace councils with local boards in any local government reorganisation.

The re-organisation proposals for Northland, Hawkes Bay and Wellington would all centralise decision-making and reduce the diversity and number of local voices involved in decisions. Northland currently has four councils, three mayors and one chair so you have one councillor or mayor for every 3,500 people. The reorganisation proposal would replace this with one 10 member council with only one councillor for every 15,200 people  and several community or local boards.

The Green Party supports communities having a strong local voice in decisions which affect them. We don’t need a one size fits all approach where fewer people make decisions which we all have a stake in and where councillors are disconnected from their communities.

Published in Justice & Democracy by Eugenie Sage on Thu, June 5th, 2014   

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