Wednesday 3rd April 2019
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The days of the Local Government Commission may be numbered as the minister of local government Nanaia Mahuta kicks off a reform process.
Mahuta announced interim measures to change the process for reorganising local councils and said they are "the first stage of a programme to disestablish the Local Government Commission in its current form. Stage two will consider new ways of carrying out necessary ongoing functions, in partnership with local government."
The commission’s main role is to make decisions on the structure of local authorities and their electoral representation. There are 78 local authorities in New Zealand, 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities. Established in 1947, the commission's role was revamped in the Local Government Act in 2002 and further reforms were implemented in 2012.
Currently, any individual can request that the Local Government Commission investigate a proposal to reorganise or amalgamate a local authority. Mahuta said she intends to install a restriction that would mean a request needs the support of at least 10 percent of the electors of an affected area.
“These proposed changes will also introduce a new locally-led reorganisation process, where local authorities can investigate reorganisation proposals themselves,” said Mahuta.
She said that recent debates about the amalgamation of local councils have proven divisive and unhelpful and have been "distractions from the real issues facing local communities."
The wider reform will be aimed at meeting the current and future needs of local government and communities.
"This will lead to flexible arrangements which are locally-led and responsive to community needs, allowing for different types of reform and for local authorities to work together without needing large-scale reorganisations. I see the role for central government as supporting councils to serve local communities,” said Mahuta.
She said an independent report commissioned by the Department of Internal Affairs found that the concept and rationale of the commission is "relatively weakly aligned" with the current and future needs of the local government sector, she said.
The commission’s main function of considering major reorganisation proposals is "no longer essential or useful" and does not provide value for money.
These changes will be implemented through the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2), currently awaiting the committee stage of the whole House.
Once enacted, all reorganisation requests, except for those already accepted by the commission, will need to meet the new requirements for significant community support.
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