Mayor pans local-body changes

Tasman District Council has hit out at local government legislation that has just been passed, saying it will hamper growth, not promote it.

Local Government Minister David Carter said the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill was aimed at lifting the performance and efficiency of local government and was an important milestone in major reform of local government.

The 78 local authorities made up 4 per cent of GDP, spent $7.8 billion a year of public money and managed $120b of assets.

Mr Carter said the bill refocused the purpose of local government, introduced financial-prudence requirements for local authorities, strengthened council governance provisions and streamlined council reorganisation procedures.

The legislation completed the first phase of the Government's Better Local Government reforms, which would focus local authorities on operating more efficiently and effectively, by doing things that only they could do, he said.

"The reforms will help the local government sector play its part in growing the New Zealand economy. Communities, businesses and households all stand to benefit from these changes," Mr Carter said.

However, Tasman District mayor Richard Kempthorne said the Government had introduced the legislation under the guise of councils straying from their core functions and the inability as a result to provide for economic growth, at a growing cost.

"Our view throughout this process has been there has been no evidence presented to support the Government's view, nor is there any certainty the proposed changes in the bill will deliver on what the Government is trying to achieve," he said today.

"Rather, the proposals may have a number of unintended consequences.

"Instead, as a number of commentators have already identified, the Government has injected uncertainty into the law by increasing the scope for council decisions to be judicially reviewed."

The ability to test decisions judicially would not increase the efficiency of councils, nor reduce costs, Mr Kempthorne said.

The costs associated with judicial reviews would fall on ratepayers but the Government's changes would be responsible for these costs, he said.

"We have always attempted to have a closer relationship with Government particularly in the introduction of legislation; however in this case they have not listened to us."

Councils were very aware of the need to reduce costs to ratepayers and looked to make changes, he said.

The councils throughout the South Island, and particularly in the top of the south, had been working closely together already to increase shared services with the aim of greater efficiency.

"Unproven, ideologically driven, 'one size fits all' legislation is just going to make the outcomes sought all that more difficult to achieve."

The Government is continuing with its changes. Mr Carter said the second part of its reform programme, which would include some non-statutory actions and a second bill proposed for next year, was progressing well.

The Nelson Mail