Comment: Local government needs to stick to core functions and prioritise these over "nice-to-haves" post Covid-19, writes Federated Farmers Senior Regional Policy Adviser Hilary Walker.

The Covid-19 lockdown is a big adjustment for all of us, as we come to grips with how our daily lives and businesses are going to change as a result of the pandemic.

One factor is the concept of essential services. During the four days between Alert Level 3 and Level 4 kicking in everyone from the Prime Minister to our local dairy owner was trying to figure out what these were.

Whilst some aspects required digging deeper along the supply chains, it was clear from the get-go that businesses which provide the necessities of life would continue to be available.

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This means food, water, medicine, healthcare, energy, fuel, waste-removal, internet and financial support, along with those who provide support services.

For local government, this means council services are being pared back drastically, focussing on the basics like water supply, wastewater, and rubbish collection, whilst taking the lead in Civil Defence responses.

There is some irony that these forced measures have come at a time when councils are usually busy seeking community feedback on their planned spending and allocation of rates for the year ahead.

A key message from the Federated Farmers yearly submissions to councils on their rates income and spending plans is that local government needs to stick to core functions and prioritise these over nice-to-haves.

We are seeing just how important these basic services are now, and that they need to be good quality.

Federated Farmers has long been worried that dreams and schemes attract increased council spending, over the basics.

From 2008-2018 over the whole country, basics like solid waste, wastewater and water reticulation, have gotten less than 50 per cent spending increases, while nice-to-haves have enjoyed expenditure increases over 50 per cent.

In an open letter to all councils Katie Milne, National President of Federated Farmers, urged Councillors to contain rates rises and keep their ratepayers in mind when considering their draft annual plans for 2020/21.

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The Federation has applauded the decisive action of central government both in terms of public health and its economic rescue package but warns that despite the Government's rescue package, the economy will suffer a sharp shock and will likely enter a deep and long recession.

At a time of economic downturn and uncertainty, councils must focus on their core functions and operate as efficiently and effectively as possible to keep the rates burden down for the wellbeing of their communities. "Nice to haves" need to be shelved.

Keeping a focus on the basic needs of communities requires courage from councillors. They are routinely bombarded with requests to support all manner of activities. It means having to say sorry to the few who want exciting new projects, in favour of the many who just want to turn on the tap or flush the toilet with no problems.

Good governance isn't exciting, but we now understand just how important core services are to our communities in a crisis. Everyone is making the necessary sacrifices for the good of all.