Local Government Bill progresses

By Nick Clark, Federated Farmers general policy manager

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The Local Government Act Amendment Bill is progressing through Parliament and, with the right support, could be passed before Christmas, reports Federated Farmers general policy manager Nick Clark.

The controversial Bill reforming what local government should and should not do could be passed before Christmas.

Federated Farmers sees this Bill as necessary to focus councils on the basics and to keep rates down, but also says that reform of local government funding is needed to reduce the reliance on rates to fund council activities.

The reforms are a response to excessive growth in the public sector in both local and central government, over the past decade. In this time, local government spending grew more than 119 per cent, rates revenue by 95 per cent and its debt quadrupled. Because of the way local government is funded, through property value rates, farmers get hammered particularly hard by these increases.

The Government wants councils to be more fiscally responsible and efficient. The Bill will change local government's purpose by replacing the activist promotion of the 'four wellbeings' with an emphasis on good quality local infrastructure, local public services and regulation.

The Bill will also put in place financial prudence requirements and performance benchmarks, give the Minister of Local Government more powers to assist and intervene in the affairs of individual councils and streamline local authority reorganisation procedures.

Many in local government strongly oppose the Bill with hundreds of submissions made to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. The Select Committee is evenly split between Government and Opposition members with Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First all opposed to the changes.

The Bill has been reported back to the House with the Select Committee unable to agree that it be passed.

Given these parties' stated concern about the cost of living, it is disappointing they oppose the Bill. At the hearings they sided firmly with the local government sector and those who want local government to be doing more, rather than less.

At the time of writing it is unclear whether the Government has the numbers to pass the Bill in its current form. As is often the case, a lot will depend on Peter Dunne.

Watch this space.

- Hamilton News

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