By Vaughan Cooper
The two most important things to people are, generally speaking, their health and the community in which they live. Why then, when we are given the chance to have a significant say on how these things are planned and delivered, do we not take this opportunity more seriously?
In terms of your wellbeing, you can vote for who gets to provide governance of the District Health Board (DHB) and the delivery of health services within the region at the moment. The Northland DHB employs 3000 staff with an operating budget of close to $650 million, according to its annual report last year.
That sounds like a big deal to me. So, wouldn't you want some say in how this is run and how it affects you? You can, if you vote.
Surely, the same applies to the place we live in. A good example is public amenity – how a place looks and feels makes a big difference to our personal safety and how much we use that space for amenity and recreation.
The Town Basin in Whangārei is an example that comes to mind. Combine that with the old cliché that councils need to be business-friendly and have a culture of how can we help, and you have the bones of a place that we can be proud to call home.
According to Local Government New Zealand, councils in Northland collectively employ 1004 staff and their operational and capital expenditure is $541 million. Yes, half a billion dollars.
It's not just the size of the business and the number of staff, though is it?
Local government is uniquely placed to be able to have a significant impact on the places we live, work and play in.
Councils have lots of levers to play with, and they are fundamental to such things as rubbish disposal and recycling, roading, infrastructure, planning and parks.
But I wonder, who is thinking about the big levers such as the structure of the economy? Who is making sure that we are using those levers to support the right sectors into the future? Are we having the discussion about how changing climate will affect our rural productivity? How are we supporting innovation, depth and diversity in our job opportunities? And what do the candidates in your neck of the woods think about any of this?
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Local government has a significant role to play in economic development. It needs to use its own levers to empower economic development and it needs to fund economic development activity in a strategic way.
My experience is that every three years we repeat the most basic of discussions, namely, whether it's a good idea to promote our tourism sector. We need more leaders in local government who understand economic development.
A good question to ask potential candidates would be: what percentage of local government activity funding should be spent on economic development? Should it be 5 per cent, 10 per cent or 20?
Voters might know, for example, that Northland Inc is responsible for strengthening, growing and diversifying the Northland economy. However, they might not know that our organisation currently receives about $2 million of support from local government, which translates to 0.4 per cent.
It is only through delving deeper into such details that they can make truly informed decisions.
Your vote counts. Please use it wisely.
• Vaughan Cooper is acting chief executive of Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency.