Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Council keeps 'social' interests

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Photo / APN
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett. Photo / APN

The Super City will continue to be involved in social issues facing the region, such as youth unemployment and community development, despite efforts by Local Government Minister Nick Smith to remove the word "social" from the role of councils.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett yesterday said there were no plans at this stage to axe the Auckland Social Policy Forum.

The 30-strong forum, chaired by Ms Bennett and including Mayor Len Brown, councillors and community representatives, was set up by the National-led Government in response to the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance.

The forum's highest-profile achievement has been a cadetship programme between the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, the Auckland Council and Ministry of Social Development to find 2000 jobs for the city's unemployed youth.

Ms Bennett and Mr Brown met yesterday and agreed the forum would concentrate on the Auckland Plan and its various social goals.

Dr Smith has highlighted councils' setting targets for NCEA pass rates as a reason to scrap the 2002 "social, economic, cultural and environmental" function of councils.

That role was to be replaced with "providing good-quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible costs to households and business".

Last night, Dr Smith said while the words "social" and "environmental" were being removed from the broad focus, it was clear councils had an important social role and environmental role through the Resource Management Act.

"There is certainly a debate to be had about the extent of their role in social issues. For example, councils have invested in skate parks and appropriate facilities for young people that clearly has social benefits.

"Where I think the community is more nervous is where councils start getting into the business of replicating social services that are properly provided by central government agencies," he said.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday said he wanted councils to focus on their core business.

"One has to ask the question, if central government isn't providing those services, then really should local government step in and fill the breach? Because there might be a very good reason why central government hasn't done it," Mr Key said.

On Monday, Dr Smith released details about planned changes for local government, including legislation to redefine the role of local bodies.

Mr Brown is among those who have questioned what could be lost with the reforms, saying it would not be acceptable if the changes meant a council had to stop plans around social activities, or aspects to the city such as roading or public transport. Additional reporting: Amelia Romanos, APNZ

- NZ Herald

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