‘Localism’ and support for ‘Kiwi community power’

A joint Local Government New Zealand/New Zealand Initiative conference will be held in Wellington today to explore the results of a survey that indicates the majority of those surveyed support a move towards local services being managed and provided by local decision-makers.

From NZ Initiative:


With New Zealanders’ attitudes towards devolved government shifting, many believe now is the time to explore localism.

The majority of New Zealanders believe that:

  • Locally controlled services will be more responsive to local needs (54%)
  • Local government would be more accountable to the locals they live amongst (53%), and
  • Local people would make better decisions based on greater understanding of local needs (52%)

At the top of the list of supported services that should be controlled by local decision-makers was vocational training (52%). This finding will be of interest in the context of the Government’s proposed merger of existing polytechs into a single national body.

At today’s LGNZ/Initiative Localism Symposium, over 130 delegates will hear from local government, business and private sector leaders about how much better New Zealand’s government could be by adopting devolution.

Dr Oliver Hartwich, Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative, will launch #localismNZ: Bringing power to the people.

This new primer on localism explains the rationale behind localism and responds to commonly heard objections.

He will explain how unusual New Zealand’s centralism is when compared internationally. New Zealand’s councils have limited fiscal autonomy. Their mandate is also much more restricted than local government in other parts of the world.

Number of local government bodies:

  • New Zealand 78 (average size 68,970)
  • Australia 571 (average size 42,026)
  • Switzerland 2,281 (average size 3,673)
  • Spain 8,192 (average size 5,714)
  • Germany 11.473 (average size 7,389)
  • France 35,535 (average size 1,872)

“Now is the time to bring the power and decision-making back to a local level,” says Dr Hartwich. “As more people recognise the absurdities of our centralised system of government and become more curious about the localist alternative, we need to build on this momentum.”

Local Government New Zealand President Dave Cull believes that communities need to be empowered to make decisions that support their local advantages, rather than having flat, top-down rules imposed upon them.

“In many instances, local people are in the best position to make decisions for their communities, not Wellington. For example, having polytechs create pathways to grow local industries, rather than shutting them down and sending our school leavers to the main centres.”

“The current governance and funding methods for local government are backwards – we need to be incentivising healthy competition between regions and sustainable growth, rather than stifling, and in many cases draining our regions of resources.”


The survey only has small majorities supporting more ‘localism’.

More:

How will local body taxes solve council spending escalation?

Local body rates have already been climbing well ahead of inflation. They are predicted to rise another 50% over the next ten years in the major cities.

So local bodies are looking at other ways of getting revenue. That doesn’t solve the escalation in spending, but I guess it makes it easier for mayors and councillors to divert from broken rates rise promises.

In the weekend Local Government New Zealand

Substantial review of local government funding welcome and needed

Local Government New Zealand is pleased with the terms of reference for the Productivity Commissions’ forthcoming inquiry into local government funding and finance which were launched by Minister of Finance Hon Grant Robertson at its annual conference in Christchurch this afternoon.

LGNZ President Dave Cull says that the current way of funding local government doesn’t provide the means to invest for growth and development, particularly given the diverse challenges facing communities.

“Our regions, cities and districts shouldn’t be entirely dependent on central government to resolve the complex issues that we are now facing – it is essential that we empower local authorities with access to funding and financing tools to make a difference,“ says Mr Cull.

Local government has been calling for a significant review of local government funding since 2015 when LGNZ first released its Local Government Funding Review and 10-Point plan: Incentivising economic growth and strong local communities.  The review found that the heavy reliance on property rates to fund local services and infrastructure failed to incentivise councils to invest for growth, which is necessary to provide the additional income to deal with issues such as infrastructure improvements and the pressures from climate change, extreme weather events and the impact of tourists on infrastructure.

“Local government is critical to the overall wellbeing of New Zealand’s communities and the way in which councils are funded influences their approach to new investment.  If the only funding sources are property based taxes then the ability and incentive to fund long term growth investment is limited.”

So local bodies want more alternatives to property based rates. Auckland City Council has already got approval for a fuel surtax, and other local bodies are considering having one too. How long will it be before just about everyone pays a local body fuel tax?

Mayors and councils are struggling to keep rates rises below eye watering levels.

LGNZ President Dave Cull’s own Dunedin council has big plans – rates wise. See 7.84% rates rise “a normal part of the cycle and 60% rates rise proposed.

And this is level of planned rates rise is common.

Stuff – Rate rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation – do they need an overhaul?

Analysis by Stuff found that over the coming decade ratepayer bills in five main cities will, on average, increase by 50 per cent.

As well as everyday council expenses, these increases will contribute to major projects – for example, $253 million for a new stadium in Christchurch and $311m for pest and disease control in Auckland.

Exact comparisons are difficult because of variations in the way rates are calculated, what they include and when rating valuations of properties are carried out. But indicative figures provided by the councils for average house prices suggest Hamilton and Christchurch ratepayers will see bills surge by around 53 per cent by 2028, and those in Wellington by 48 per cent.

Auckland rates will rise 38 per cent, and Dunedin by 59 per cent.

Rates for 2018/19 rose across the board on July 1, from 2.5 per cent in Auckland to 5.5 per cent in Christchurch and 9.7 per cent in Hamilton, against a backdrop of 1.1 per cent inflation.

But it is likely to be worse.

TEN-YEAR RATING FORECASTS ARE ‘BEST CASE SCENARIO’

Gough has an ominous warning, at least for Christchurch – that the annual increases outlined in the long-term plans are far from fixed in stone.

“Every year we do an annual plan, and I have never seen one where the rating increase is less than what’s projected.

What seems to happen is councils warning of a large rates rise, finalising a slightly less large rise and claiming that is a reduction.

Cull believes there is an over-reliance on property rates to fill the coffers, the 60 per cent of council income they provide far exceeding that of other developed countries, and that putting them up year after year in the face of sluggish wage rises is not sustainable.

He is a proponent of local taxes as an alternative funding tool – sales taxes, GST, a local income tax or the like.

That makes taxes even more complicated, and will presumably end up with variations between different councils and regions.

But all this focus on alternatives for raising local body revenue misses a fairly large point – why is expenditure going up so much?

It sounds like 50% rates increases are inevitable and mayors just want to disguise where their revenue comes from.

Broken rates rises promises make for embarrassing election campaign fodder.

Alternatives to rates should certainly be considered, but I wish as much effort was put into containing expenditure.

A plethora of regional taxes may help mayors and councillors, but it will still cost us all one way or another – probably more given the costs of administering a complexity of taxes.

Back to the Stuff headline: Rate rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation – do they need an overhaul?

What about ‘Spending rises continually outstrip incomes and inflation’?

Further boom in tourism forecast, infrastructure warning

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has forecast up to a 40% increase in tourist numbers by 2024 (that’s just 6 years away). The opportunities have been welcomed by Local Government New Zealand, but they have warned that already stretched infrastructure will be put under more pressure.

Tourism Minister Kelvn Davis: Tourism growth forecast to continue

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis has welcomed new forecasts showing international visitor spending is expected to grow 40 per cent to $14.8 billion a year by 2024.

The New Zealand Tourism Forecasts 2018-2024 were released today by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“New Zealand’s tourism sector is forecast to grow steadily over the next seven years, reaching 5.1 million visitors annually by 2024, up 37 per cent from 2017,” Mr Davis says.

“We expect to see numbers climb fairly rapidly over the next two years, due to favourable economic conditions and better air connectivity, but over the longer term growth will be more moderate.

Mr Davis says a healthy tourism industry is great for New Zealand, though there is work to do to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

“It is important that the Government, councils and industry work together to meet the challenges that accompany the forecast growth.”

It’s worth remembering that John Key was Minister of Tourism for much of the last decade.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ): Predicted tourism boom could push infrastructure to breaking point

LGNZ President Dave Cull says that a new forecast predicting an international visitor increase of 37% to 5.1 million annually by 2024 will be a great boost to regional economies across New Zealand, however infrastructure is already under pressure and much more is needed to ensure a fair funding division is achieved between tourists and local ratepayers.

“The tourism sector is predicted to grow rapidly over the next two years, but as evidenced last summer infrastructure it is extremely stretched in many regions, with provision of public toilets, car parks and basic potable and waste water infrastructure coming at a substantial cost to communities,” says Mr Cull.

“Those communities with scale can share the burden across many rate payers, but smaller ratepaying bases are picking up big bills to accommodate visitor demand and the lack of infrastructure is resulting in tension among communities.”

Mr Cull contends that the increase in international visitor spend should be harnessed to provide tourism infrastructure.

“This is about fairness. It’s not right to burden ratepayers with subsiding the entire cost of infrastructure which is used by tourists, and there needs to be a new mechanism for tourism to support itself.”

LGNZ is advocating strongly to Government on councils’ behalf that the Government introduce a Local Tourist Tax to raise the necessary funding to meet the capital and operating costs associated with tourism mix-used infrastructure future demand, thus alleviating the financial burden on local ratepayers.

Without the necessary funding tools to ensure the needs of both locals and tourists are met, New Zealand faces the prospect of over promising and under delivering in a sector that is so critical to our economic future.

“New Zealand should be known as a high-quality tourist destination with fit-for-purpose facilities to handle the expected increase in numbers and a country that welcomes and embraces their visit.”

The forecast is both promising and challenging.

Local bodies vote to herd cats

A double dose from Dunedin at the Local Government New Zealand conference – Dunedin mayor Dave Cull has been elected as the new LGNZ president (a pity it’s not a full time position), and a Dunedin remit was voted for by a bare 51% to bring in cat controls.

National legislation to manage cats

The third remit was proposed by Dunedin City Council and asks that LGNZ lobby the Government on the importance of implementing the final version of the National Cat Management strategy which recognises both the importance of companion cats and indigenous wildlife to many New Zealanders.

Throughout New Zealand councils are tasked with trying to promote responsible cat ownership and reduce their environmental impact on wildlife, including native birds and geckos.  Yet, territorial authority’s powers for cats are for minimising the impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and regional councils’ powers are restricted to destruction of feral cats as pests.  The remit seeks the protection of our wildlife and native species by seeking regulatory powers for cat control, including cat identification, cat de-sexing and responsible cat ownership.

The remit was passed with 51 per cent voting in favour. 

This won’t be popular with cats nor with many cat owners, who may be required to get their moggies to abide by a curfew, not being out at night.

Newly minted president of LGNZ Dunedin Mayor David Cull said it’s about allowing councils to start a conversation about controlling cats if they are affecting wildlife.

“The situation at the moment is while councils have the power to control dogs they have absolutely no way to control cats unless they affect human health,” he told The AM Show.

The remit “specifically acknowledged the value of companion cats to people, so it’s not about trying to stop people owning cats in particular areas,” he said.

“But we do need some controls, because feral cats and in some cases domesticated cats are a major threat to native wildlife.”

“We need some tools, and that’s what we’re asking for,” he said.

There may be issues with cats but they also serve a useful purpose in controlling pests.

The cat population doubled to two at my place last year, and we have more tui and bellbirds around than ever, as well as visits by kereru and eastern rosellas and fantails and waxeyes.

The cats occasionally catch a bird but most often it is a sparrow or a thrush.

But it looks like the Dunedin council and some others are keen on requiring the herding of cats.

They kept as quiet as they could on cats during the local body elections, and now mid term they try to foist it on the public. Devious.