Council to pick up on social obligations

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 27/11/2012

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The Palmerston North City Council is planning to sharpen its response to social issues despite question marks hanging over local government's future role in helping the poor and disadvantaged.

Chief executive Paddy Clifford told the community wellbeing committee yesterday he was determined to see the council retain a strong role in community development.

At issue was the council's involvement in responding to issues raised annually at a social wellbeing forum, which identifies needs in the community and the problems faced by the groups that try to help.

Cr Pat Kelly said the challenges created a dilemma for the council.

He said action was needed on many of the priorities the community groups identified, including housing and transport, but the council had limited resources to tackle national issues.

"It's hard to understand how local government can pick up these responsibilities, and I'm a little concerned about the expectations.

"We are restrained to the extent of what the ratepayer can afford to deal with these issues that are at a national level."

Cr Duncan McCann said local government was likely to be even more restricted in future, with central government advocating local government's role should be curtailed.

Proposed law changes would see "the four wellbeings" - social, economic, environmental and cultural - removed from the definition of the purpose of local government.

"Yet we find ourselves picking up the pieces, and covering the cracks."

He said the wellbeings were critically important.

Mr Clifford said he had a real affinity for community wellbeing, and was proud the council had strengthened the role of community services within the organisation.

"It's not just about dollars, but people and intelligence and better utilising what we have got."

He advocated retaining and building its role as the community faced what was likely to be many years of recession.

Issues raised at the social wellbeing forum were already being addressed through the council's social strategy, adopted this year, and the community funding policy that spells out what outcomes it wants groups receiving grants to achieve.

The Community Services Council had changed the way it worked to provide more support to members.

Its acting chairman, Fraser Greig, said the group had responded "actively and boldly" to the call for stronger leadership.

Cr Susan Baty, who was at the forum, said the council could not push its report aside and complain that it was a national problem demanding a national response.

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Some actions could be taken locally, without too much expense, by working collaboratively.

She said now the Community Services Council had strengthened its leadership, councillors could expect it to be seeking more solutions and actions.

- Manawatu Standard

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