In the 1930s local governments’ share of total public expenditure was around 50 per cent. It is now estimated to sit at 11 per cent with central government allocating the remaining 89 per cent. Local Government New Zealand launched its election manifesto at the LGNZ Conference this week. With its vision of “local democracy powering community and national success” and a commitment to localism, there is a clear emphasis on protecting and enhancing local democracy. The manifesto states “New Zealand is now one of the most centralised countries of the OECD with detrimental consequences for our rate of economic growth and local empowerment. Centralised models are often characterised by ‘one size fits all’.”
Lawrence Yule, LGNZ past President, goes on to highlight that “councils have a critical role in ‘place shaping’, that is, determining the character and quality of life of the areas they are elected to govern. Their role is unique as they are the only body that has a specific democratic mandate for ensuring placed-based communities prosper and thrive”.
Most people recognise the many challenges we face here in the Far North. The third biggest district in the North Island with a very low ratepayer base (about a third of our land is in DOC estate, which is unrated), socio-economic challenges and so on. This makes affordability a real issue. We struggle to pay for the necessities let alone the extras our communities desire and deserve. One of the issues identified in the LGNZ manifesto is the legislative framework that governs councils. It is seen as “too constraining, fragmented, complex and fails to incentivise councils to innovate and invest in making their communities better places to live”. Mr Yule concludes “creating more prosperous, vibrant and resilient communities requires a stronger local government system able and empowered to address the challenges we all face. It is an issue that should concern all New Zealanders. It is a matter of urgency”.
The manifesto goes on to outline LGNZ’s strategic policy priorities, of which there are five. At a high level these include: infrastructure; risk and resilience; environment; social (for the first time); and economic (with a focus on the visitor industry).
This is an election year. I urge you to advocate on our district’s behalf with those looking to represent us at central government level. We need an incoming government committed to working more fairly and equitably with local government. We must remember that government is here to serve its people, whether centrally or locally. It is a partnership, and a vital one for the future of this amazing country. The LGNZ 2017 Manifesto makes an excellent argument. For further detail go to: www.lgnz.co.nz.
During the weekend I had the complete pleasure of being a judge at the fabulous Russell Birdman Festival. It is estimated that the population trebled. The town will have enjoyed a roaring trade during our coldest month and the locals had a fun and frivolous weekend.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Kawakawa Business and Community AGM and heard about all the activities they are undertaking to support local prosperity. Focus Paihia is going great-guns with the development of the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park. Love Opua and Vision Kerikeri continue to work on community and people projects. Kaikohe has a group of like-minded individuals focused on regeneration, while Kaitaia has wonderful town beautification activities… and the list goes on.
The common theme, of course, is that all these activities are led by passionate volunteers. People that have chosen to make a difference. Chosen to stick their necks out, to donate time, resources and energy to bring about change in the most proactive, uplifting and encouraging way. These people enrich our communities. They are part of the hope and aspirations so much needed in a time when far too many of our beautiful people struggle with depression, a lack of direction, or who cannot find their place, their value.
For the Far North to truly prosper we need to encourage and support these local leaders. They are role models, change agents; the quiet achievers, making a difference one day at a time. Whether the outcome is purely fun (and we could all do with more laughter), economically driven, advocates or making someone’s day – the purpose is always to make the world a better place. With over 40 communities in the Far North, each with its own identity, its own strengths and challenges, we need to get in behind these local heroes. And if there isn’t one in your community, be one.
Although it can be hard going at times (there are always people ready to throw stones), the rewards are worth it. The personal satisfaction that comes from community success should not be under-estimated. It grows self-worth, and feelings of value and connectedness. Volunteering – the selfless act of giving to others – brings about happiness.
We are a large district with a small population and an even smaller rate base. We need each other. We need strong communities and a strong district. We need to remember that we are all in this together and that our collective approach, our support of each other, can be a game-changer.
So thank you to all our volunteers for being part of making a better, stronger tomorrow. We celebrate you. Nominations for the Far North Citizen Awards close at the end of the month. Let’s celebrate the people making a difference in our communities. Please nominate your local super heroes and let’s honour the difference they are making. For further details go to the FNDC website: www.fndc.govt.nz.