Debate over councils’ jurisdictions and priorities rolls on as the conversation around proposed changes to the Local Government Act continues.
Since 2002, the four well-beings have become one of the cornerstones of modern local government, tasking territorial local authorities with looking after the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of their communities.
Detractors say they are responsible for the near universal blow-out in council spending over the last decade on airy-fairy, nice-to-have social projects, to the detriment of what should be councils’ core spending on water, drains and roads
The four well-beings are threatened in the proposed local government changes which will rewrite the Local Government Act so councils will instead be charged with providing "good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and business".
Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby says he found a lot of support for keeping the four well-beings at a conference on local government he attended this week.
“The four well-beings were definitely a huge part of the discussion and certainly the consensus up and down New Zealand is for the retention of the four well-beings,” says Stuart.
“The reason is effectively that is what councils do anyway, but to different degrees in different areas.”
Tauranga City has a strong focus on economic well-being, says Stuart. Other councils, including regional bodies, have a stronger focus on the environment.
“It ebbs and flows from council to council. Most of the mayors and councillors I have spoken to want the retention of the four well-beings.”
The other reason for keeping the status quo is the alternative being promoted talks about social services that are not defined in the proposed Bill, says Stuart.
“To be fair the Minister of Local Government assured us that if the new proposal went through, we could still effectively do what we are doing now. But if you stepped outside what the Government might deem to be core services for local government, then there might be a higher accountability and higher scrutiny. And I personally don’t have a problem with that.”
Stuart’s personal view is the proposed changes are a knee-jerk reaction to some circumstances up and down the country.
“I support reform and I believe our sector is due for reform, but the right reform, and not a knee-jerk reaction.”
On Thursday all the mayors of the Bay of Plenty and the regional council chairman presented submissions on the Bill to the parliamentary Select Committee.
“Our message is we want to work in partnership with the Government to deliver good infrastructure and good community outcomes for all of New Zealand.
“So that was our key message, let’s work together for the benefit of New Zealand incorporated and to improve the quality of life for everybody - and that went down well with the Select Committee.”