ADVOCATE COLUMN 4th WEEK JUNE 2015
The recent announcement from the Local Government Commission stated that as a result of overwhelming opposition from Northlanders in relation to a single unitary authority for the region, the proposal will no longer be considered. This begs the question; does that mean we are happy with the status quo? According to the commission the answer is no. They stated in their final report that change was still needed if local government in the region was to be more effective.
The positive outcome of their investigation was that they were encouraged by the recent progress on greater cooperation between the Northland councils and that they will be continuing to work with the community to reach a consensus on what changes are required and what is the best form of local government for Northland.
Ideally local government reform should result in building a more productive and competitive economy and delivering better public services to Northlanders. The tension between democracy and providing sustainable and affordable governance means there are many demands from many different sectors of our communities. We have a unique opportunity to look at our aspirations – how we wish to live, grow, create employment, attract investment and interact with other regions inside NZ and internationally. There may be value in working with our neighbouring councils within the region to create scale in order to achieve their aspirations at a higher level or become more efficient.
Voluntary collaboration for example is one way that councils could provide services across a region without resorting to amalgamation. Councils can retain their autonomy with respect to identity and expenditure and rate/revenue raising decisions but at the same time, achieve economies of scale in service delivery and address externalities associated with service provision. Unfortunately we are all aware the difficulty that has existed in the past between our region’s councils when it comes to adopting a collaborative approach. Perhaps some other governance frameworks might also emerge from having a conversation to identify what best suits Northland’s communities.
Within a global sense, Northland and its local government challenges are not unique. There are many other places throughout the world that have had to deal with the same issues and we could do a lot worse than to look further afield in the search for what is the best form of local government for our region. At least now the conversation is focussed on establishing what the problem is we are trying to solve rather than starting with a preconceived solution.