Hide tips less consultation

13:01, Aug 03 2009

Councils would operate more efficiently with less compulsory public consultation, Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says.

The ACT leader told delegates at the Local Government New Zealand conference in Christchurch yesterday that mandatory consultation was often overdone.

He said his officials were looking at ways of reducing the amount of consultation and at simplifying the 10-year council plan process.

Hide had been warned of a stormy reception from some delegates, and he was accused at the conference of bullying and bulldozing through local government reforms.

But he received warm applause after his address.

Hide quashed rumours he was pushing for rates-capping and said he was impressed with what he had seen of the sector since becoming minister.

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"I believe in local government. That is to say, where possible I believe that decisions are best left with individuals, but where government is involved it's better they're given as locally and close to the people as possible," he said.

"I think councils are required to do far too much consultation, and the consultation is not meaningful to the average person in your communities. I plan to streamline consultation requirements but ensure that councils must consult on the issues that matter to communities rating levels, spending decisions and service levels for councils' core business.

"I am also looking into the potential for using polls or referenda for particular decisions."

Hide told The Press that consultation was "overly prescribed".

"I want to give councils greater flexibility in how they go about it," he said.

Wellington City Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer asked Hide about his plans to focus councils on providing "core" services.

Hide has not defined core activities, but he told the conference it was crucial that councils ensured core activities were properly identified and funded before more discretionary activities.

Labour leader Phil Goff told delegates on Monday that core services included transport, water and waste services, and not social, cultural, environmental and recreational ones. "I'm puzzled, minister," Ahipene-Mercer said, "why you are fixated on promoting changes that I believe will return our country to the barren cultural deserts that they once were."

Hide's reply, hinting at his stint on Dancing With the Stars, brought laughter: "I'm not fixated that was your word. Of course, as a dancer myself, I'm very impressed and excited by the arts and the contribution they make to our community."

The Press