OPINION: Last month, mayors and councillors from around the South Island met to discuss various matters, two of which dominated, writes Tracy Hicks in Southern Focus.
First, how do we ensure the best deal for the South Island in what has become an increasingly competitive landscape, given the formation of some large lobbying blocks in the north?
These blocks that had their genesis with the formation of the Auckland super-city, and an entity that size has quite a leverage in the halls of power in Wellington.
I guess not much has changed, in that the South Island has always been up against it in terms of the weight of numbers and votes from further north, but I have noticed an increasing challenge in recent times in getting our message across where it counts.
A classic example of the challenge to being heard is the hardy annual from rural and provincial New Zealand of fair and adequate funding from the taxpayer to recognise the importance of local roads to the national economy.
The third year of flat-line funding is starting to bite and it is beginning to show.
Roads are the lifeblood of the rural economy and any diminishing of that status has the potential to be very serious, not only for local communities, but also for the wellbeing of the entire economy.
To date, this is a message that appears to have been lost and that must change. Let's hope a unified voice can make a difference.
The other item on the agenda which has grabbed the attention of everyone in local government lately has been the introduction to Parliament of the reform package the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill.
Outside local government, it has been a bit of a yawn and hardly caused a stir, let alone a ripple, which is probably understandable, given that local government is not seen as being as sexy as some of the headline-grabbing stories we have had recently.
This piece of legislation does, however, have the potential to shift the focus of local government and certainly questions its purpose – neither of which is wrong, given that it is likely to fly under the radar, certainly from the public's perspective. However, it does have the potential to create one of those situations where you don't realise what you have lost until its gone.
This proposed legislation is very light on detail, which, of course, is where the devil lies. It uses language like "effective", "efficient" and "lowest cost", none of which anyone would argue with, but neither does it contain the required definition of such language, and that is where its Achilles' heel resides.
It has the potential to be a field day for lawyers and a bottomless pit for ratepayers.
I am sure it will evolve as it passes through the parliamentary processes and become much more defined and measurable, which is the way it should be. However, I can't help but wonder how it got to this point without a lot more rigour being applied.
The regulatory impact statement attached to the bill makes very revealing reading, as it endeavours to put the case for its existence. I endorse much of the bill's intent, but at this point it's hardly a stellar example of great legislation which will help move forward communities, large and small.
Local government must always be about local communities establishing priorities which create the place they want to live in. One size or shape certainly doesn't fit all.
Capability and capacity at a local level always have and always will be created locally. In my experience, that is generally where innovation and creativity reside, and long may it last.
» Tracy Hicks is the Gore district mayor.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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