Editorial: Let's get together

Last updated 05:00 06/02/2013

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OPINION: We invite Richard King to add an imperative to the key challenges he has identified.

The long-serving and reappointed Invercargill City Council chief executive is quite right to highlight the council's role in community job creation, particularly given the uncertainty of the Tiwai smelter's future.

And woe betide him had he not also acknowledged, as he did, that council staff had a clear message from elected councillors to keep rates down, while simultaneously carrying out their policies, although he didn't go out of his way to highlight that potential complication.

Mr King thinks they can do it. So do we.

However, something else should have been right up there with top-of-the-list priority status.

All Southland's chief executives need to put more effort into shared services.

A single Southland local authority, merging at least the territorial councils of Invercargill City, Southland and Gore districts, remains a flat-out good idea. The internal infrastructures of those three councils, collectively, are neither necessary nor justifiable for a province of fewer than 100,000 people.

Those who mount generic arguments about preserving democracy at local level tend to draw too close a connection between democracy and bureaucracy.

Was it really hideously undemocratic when the Southland and Wallace county councils merged? Should there still, really, be a Mataura Borough Council?

We accept, with as much good grace as we can muster, that for the time being, full amalgamations do not appear to be on the cards, partly because everybody is trying to protect their own patch and largely because there hasn't been sufficient public pressure, as opposed to governmental grumbling, to move things along.

But this doesn't prevent a more purposeful approach to finding the advantages of fully functional collaboration and shared services. All the councils profess keenness to do this and we accept they haven't been altogether inert. The regional council, Environment Southland, and the territorial councils have combined their civil defence into Emergency Management Southland and, rather more modestly, we now have a combined city council-Southland district pound. There is even the Our Way Southland initiative which extends to parenting courses. To those, and there are many, who might grump about this foray from what are generally regarded as core services Southland district Mayor Frana Cardno replies, not all that disarmingly, "It is what our communities have asked us to do".

Far more substantively, the district plans are coming into alignment, like planets do, except with apparently far greater cosmic difficulty. We are told a combined document would realistically be ready by 2020. As for roading, let's have more progress than the sedate approach taken to in the studies into shared governance, contract grouping and bulk funding of the networks. They are fascinating concepts, apparently, when you dwell upon them.

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Local authorities elsewhere are much further down the path than we are. Mr King should be driving progress. He will probably retire at the end of this latest five-year term and whether or not civil servants are comfortable with talk of legacies, the fact is they do leave 'em and progress on this issue, or lack of it, would surely count as one.

Let's not forget that the council has spent almost $2 million on five buildings in lower Esk St, with a view to building a combined administration complex to house the city and Southland district councils and Venture Southland, one day.

- The Southland Times

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