Press Release – NZCID
Eight out of 10 New Zealanders think councils have lost focus on what is important and need to refocus on core public services, infrastructure and regulation, according to a recent Horizon Research report.
The survey of 956 New Zealanders was commissioned by the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development to test public attitudes to local government and the provision of infrastructure services. Weighted to represent the national population the survey has a maximum margin of error of +/- 3.2 per cent overall.
“The research reveals considerable support for the Government’s proposed change to the purpose of local government”, said Stephen Selwood CEO of NZCID.
56 per cent of New Zealanders support the purpose of local government being changed to ‘providing good quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and business’.
Contrary to the unanimous view of Councils across the country that the purpose of local government to promote the “four well beings” should remain unchanged, less than 20 per cent of respondents supported this view.
Respondents clearly believe that councils need to refocus. 80% agreed that it was necessary, with 24% strongly agreeing. On the other hand, a majority, 59%, believe that providing for the four well beings does reflect the needs of residents. This suggests that respondents hold a view that councils moved too far in pursuit of the well beings following the change of the Local Government Act in 2002.
This result is consistent with other findings and comments by respondents throughout the report which show quite a strong degree of frustration that councils are not doing what residents want. For example, while some councils across the country are increasing rates to meet increasing community demands for non-core services just 7 per cent of those surveyed supported this approach. Over half of respondents want a reduction in rates, even if it means a reduction in services.
When this finding is viewed in the context of public understanding of what local government does, a picture emerges of local representation which is not in touch with communities and communities that just don’t understand or fully value what councils do. While four out of five respondents said that they could name their local Mayor, just one third knew who their local councillor was and only a quarter describe their understanding of council policies as “good” or “strong”.
This indicates a need for councils to find new ways of connecting with residents to determine the issues that matter and that existing consultative processes may not be as effective as direct community workshops, online surveys and other means of communication.
This is exactly what the Royal Commission found in its pre-amalgamation assessment of Auckland governance. It is therefore of some concern that Auckland-based respondents still rated their council’s services and cost control more negatively than elsewhere. The survey sends a clear signal to the Auckland Council that it needs to improve its interaction with communities and that it may not yet be leveraging the full value that local boards bring from a community engagement perspective.
When polled on whether the Auckland Council model should be extended to other regions, there was not surprisingly a mixed response. Respondents acknowledged a large number of benefits from a more provincial approach to local government, including improved economic development, stronger influence with central government, and better overall value for money. But concerns about potential loss of community focus and local identity led to a fairly even three way split between those for, against and neutral on amalgamating councils.
“It is clear that any move towards amalgamation like that now being considered for Wellington must provide for stronger local community engagement, better provision of infrastructure services as well as improved value for money through better organisational effectiveness if it is to receive popular support”, Selwood says.