Having recently returned from the annual Local Government NZ conference I am again feeling uplifted and inspired. One of the real highlights was the launch of the Localism Project. The aim to bring government back to the people (we are one of the most centralised countries in the world). A bold and exciting project jointly led by LGNZ and The New Zealand Initiative.
The call is for a shift in the way public decisions are made in New Zealand. One of the aims is to strengthen self-governance at our local level, i.e. reinvigorating our local democracy through devolution and decentralisation.
I am right behind it and you should be too. Why? Political Scientist, Simon Parker says ”…bring power closer to the ordinary people, partly by vesting more of it in local institutions that voters can really influence, but also engaging citizens themselves more in everything from healthcare to house building. A call for decentralisation is a demand for a different way of doing government.”
I have always believed and advocated that local government is here to serve and that the power will always be with the people. I believe that local government plays a vital role, one that should never be lost. However, I also recognise that we have become burdened with ‘process’, legislative or otherwise and I have for many years now known there will be much better ways to serve and support our communities to shine. Much better ways to truly lead and empower.
What excites me is this notion is shared by others and is now gaining momentum that potentially could see some major shifts. A platform for better decision-making and action that truly invigorates.
And if you need a more tangible argument, consider this: Our Government spends 88 per cent of public expenditure, compared to 54 per cent in the United States and just 13 in Switzerland. Consider that we are a district of 52 identified communities, the biggest in the North Island. We have 2,508 kilometres of roads, 1,650 of which are unsealed. We have 196 km of footpaths, 2,949 manholes, eight potable water schemes, 336kms of sewer pipe, 38 community buildings and the list goes on. In the 2018/19 financial year we are budgeting to spend around $114 million of which around $90 million comes from rates. We have less than 40,000 ratepayers and no, not everyone pays their rates. Consider again that for every dollar of rates, 19 cents is spent on roading. When you think of the amount of tax we pay through road user charges alone, it’s fair to say that it’s just unfair and becoming increasingly unaffordable.
So, yep it’s big picture and yep, it won’t happen overnight. But, without a doubt, the call for more effective local governance is building momentum. And it needs to.