Dame Susan Devoy: Change to create opportunity

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Central government is tightening its belt. It appears that virtually everything is under the microscope.

Mergers of government departments, dis-establishment of some Crown entities - in fact all sectors are expected to become more cost efficient, more competitive and innovative.

Yet it seems while everyone including householders are doing the same, local government is accumulating debt and increasing rates faster than inflation.

Jane Clifton's NZ Listener article Tackling our rising rates predicted " a top to bottom reform with the aim of restricting the ambit of local council activities, their ability to borrow and their ability to keep cranking up rates".

Music to the ears of all the long suffering ratepayers.

So there is change in the air and Local Government Minister Nick Smith has made it loud and clear that there will be significant change to local authorities.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

It's not necessarily all the councils' fault.

The changes to the Local Government Act in 2002 introduced by the Labour government broadened the councils' mandate and required them to be all things to all people.

While their core business should be roads, rubbish, sewerage and water, they were now expected to deliver on the social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of their communities.

Seemingly without any additional resources.

It is not yet clear whether the Government will follow the Auckland Super City model or develop models on an individual basis that suit each community's diverse needs.

But it looks likely that regional councils will no longer be a separate entity.

Here in the Bay of Plenty, we have six local authorities and one regional council.

We have roughly 100 councillors governing a population of an estimated 277,000. I am sure that most people are in agreement that this is too many, particularly if you take into consideration the council staff that are employed by these organisations.

People talk about change but I imagine for many, relinquishing their positions won't be easy, even if they know it's the right thing to do.

What too many struggle to comprehend is that it is as much a skill to know when to go, when you have had your time and to give others a chance.

All organisations, even councils, need fresh blood and ideas to complement the skills they bring to the table.

I hope the Government goes further and looks at terms of office and, even better, some ideas to address the apathy of voters towards local body elections.

But this reform is not about people and nor is it necessarily about amalgamation.

The focus needs to be on getting the core business and functions of the councils right.

Do you think it's right that the Dunedin City Council bails out the rugby union? Could you imagine any other local club receiving the same benefits?

But those who support the forgiveness of almost half a million dollars of debt will justify it by quoting section 10 of the Local Government Act which states the purpose of councils is to look after the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of its communities for the present and into the future.

I always thought rugby was religion in New Zealand. Now I have had it confirmed.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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