Once again we have come together to commemorate Anzac Day and, following last year’s Covid restrictions, large crowds turned out for the services held throughout Waitaki.
It’s a real honour for me to attend some of those services in my role as mayor and I want to thank all of those who helped organise or attend them, as our community paid their respects to those who have served our country over the years in wars, conflicts and peacetime.
We will remember them …
One of the other major events in the past week was the announcement by the Government that there will be a review of local government.
That is the sort of comment that can cause shivers to run up spines, and for councils everywhere to prepare for battle.
However, in this case, rather than the announcement being a harbinger of doom, it is one that I have been looking forward to.
The reason for my optimism is that we have been talking to the prime minister, the minister for local government and other officials in Wellington for some time now.
We have had some serious discussions about what local government can do to help central government achieve its goals. And more importantly, what local government can do to achieve our communities’ goals.
When I say “we”, I mean Local Government New Zealand’s (LGNZ) national council; I mean the Canterbury Mayoral Forum and Otago Mayoral Forum, of which I am a member; I mean the Provincial Councils sector, which I chair; and I mean the Waitaki District Council.
The announcement of the review has been expected.
As part of that announcement, the minister published the details of the panel which will undertake the review.
Two of the five members are highly respected people who were put forward by LGNZ’s national council, and one of those people is chairing the review panel.
That is a very strong indication of how seriously the Government wants to work with local government to improve community outcomes.
We are already filling gaps that ministries can’t fill. Local government showed during last year’s Covid lockdown just how connected we are with our communities, and that is something that government ministries just can’t replicate.
The areas which are usually seen to be the responsibility of ministries, but where councils already make significant contributions, include housing, health, community safety, and unemployment, just to name a few.
At the moment, we do that work with some minor funding from the Government, but usually the costs have to be covered by rating our residents.
New Zealand has a very centralised government service done by the Government, with local government accounting for just 12%.
The next most centralised countries in the OECD are Israel and the UK, with a 72-28% split.
Most countries are much less centralised with how they deliver services. That represents plenty of opportunity for New Zealand’s councils to deliver more services locally, and to get better value.
The time has come to review our system, and to bring greater equity into the funding options.
It is time for both levels of government to work together in partnership to provide better services for our people.
I welcomed the announcement last week because our people deserve better from New Zealand’s political system, and I know that if they are given the tools and funding, councils are able to do some very good work in a range of areas.
I look forward to seeing this review carried out, and I will be doing all I can to influence that work to benefit the people of Waitaki.
- Gary Kircher is the Mayor for Waitaki