John Carter: Boards to breathe new life into local government

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John Carter writes on the community entities planned for Auckland.

Photo / Martin Sykes
Photo / Martin Sykes

There has been some discussion in the Herald about the new Auckland Council and the roles and functions of local boards.

This Government wants to ensure that Auckland, as New Zealand's largest city, attracts people and investment and offers a first-class infrastructure and lifestyle.

We are committed to making this great city unified with a structure that delivers greater efficiencies through less duplication and waste and is able to progress issues faster.

Aucklanders have told us they want this. Providing better services to Auckland is the object of the exercise.

On the matter of local boards, let's not judge them before they even exist.

Local boards are an important part of the Auckland reforms under the Local Government (Auckland Law Reform) Bill. They are new entities that are unique to Auckland.

They are different to what has gone before and they are not the same as community boards or district councils. They have potential to breathe new life into local government.

They present an exciting opportunity for each community.

So it is disappointing to see editorials and articles demanding Government set down a specific range of activities to be undertaken by local boards at this stage. While the reorganisation of local government in Auckland is complex, the end goal is simple and logical.

From New Zealand's largest city, the Government wants strong regional governance, greater community engagement, local decisions on local activities, improved connections across the region and improved value for money - that is, a better return for rates and government funding.

Putting the local back into local government in Auckland is what has been asked for stridently, via submissions and select committee hearings, since the Government embarked on these reforms. We have listened and believe local boards provide the solution.

Each local board will be unique and will address matters exclusive to its community.

The key driver is local boards will make local decisions about local activities.

For example, the Waiheke Local Board is likely to be different from the Waitakere Local Board and many of their respective needs and requirements will be quite distinct.

Getting it right for each board and taking into consideration each one's characteristics requires consideration.

That is why the Government established the Auckland Transition Agency (ATA) and charged it with planning and managing all matters in relation to the reorganisation of local government in Auckland, including defining the role, functions, powers and duties of the local boards.

The transition agency has specialists doing the forensics on each function to ensure that every "local" function is picked up and appropriately delegated to each of the local boards.

If the function is of local significance, it will lie with the local board. Bearing in mind the goal of strong regional governance and value for money, if it is of regional significance it will get regional status, with governance and decision making by Auckland councillors.

The expertise and work required to sift through these functions and delegate them in a meaningful way so that each local community achieves its best outcome is far too detailed to prescribe in legislation and is likely to change over time. It is wrong to suggest that this is where this function belongs.

People will be surprised at the detail that will result. Such detail will show why it was impractical for a parliamentary select committee to attempt to undertake this task.

I am confident the local boards will present an opportunity for the communities that make up Auckland.

I expect these boards will evolve and they will deliver on the vision of Auckland as a local government leader.

* John Carter is Associate Minister of Local Government and member of Parliament for Northland.

- NZ Herald

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