From the ACT Party website
Local Government – The Way Ahead
Posted on 19 Feb 2009
Speech to Local Government NZ conference
I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, that I don’t regard myself the Minister of Local Government – I consider myself the Minister for Ratepayers.
I don’t represent councils.
I represent the people whose hard work and savings pay the rates.
And provide councils with their income.
That sums up the way I approach to my job.
When ACT went into its support agreement with National after the election, I took on my two ministerial portfolios – Local Government and Regulatory Reform …
Because these are important areas that affect people and their communities in so many ways.
I also took them on because these areas in real need of change.
Here are my aims.
First, I want to keep rate rises down and encourage you to focus on core activities.
On the necessities, not the luxuries.
There can be no doubt that, overwhelmingly, ratepayers right across the country support this goal.
No one wants to pay more rates than they have to.
And there can also be no doubt that rates have been rising way beyond the rate of inflation for a good many years.
As have other charges and fees.
So I will be pushing for councils to accept that rates rises should be capped at the rate of inflation, or less.
Sure, councils for good reason may need to increase rates faster than inflation.
But they should get the consent of ratepayers for such increases.
After all, it’s their money.
And it’s a good test for a planned spend-up to get the agreement of those who are paying for it.
We all know the perilous state of the economy.
We must be a lot more careful with money than we were in the past.
That includes councils – although there’ve been calls from ratepayers and ratepayers groups for many years to cut back the big rates rises.
And to get back to basics, to what should be the core roles of councils …
Providing public services such as rubbish removal, road maintenance, parks, libraries, and light handed-regulatory controls.
We all have wish lists – but councils must make better judgements about what they decide to support and spend money on.
They should not be running banks, investing in hotels, or paying for some superstar to visit.
Councils need to ask themselves each time a spending proposal comes up – “Is this a core service for local government to provide – and can our ratepayers afford it?”
When I look at the expanding breadth of activities that councils engage in, the answer must surely be, “Businesses should be doing this – not the council.“
Even if it is a job appropriate for local government, the answer may still be “No, our ratepayers can’t afford it.”
So there are two fiscal tests we should be applying to councils.
Here’s my second aim.
Ratepayers want greater transparency and accountability in local government.
Right now, council processes are murky and confusing.
I want to change that.
Ratepayers want to know who is responsible for council decisions – and who to hold to account.
For good decisions, we need good governance.
Good governance requires transparency and accountability.
I believe we can and should do better.
My third aim is to cut the red tape that’s strangling businesses, and driving ordinary people homeowners crazy.
I want to see fewer of the absurd compliance demands in the regulatory area.
I want to see the burden that is placed by central government on local government reduced.
I want to see respect for private property rights
I want the freedom of individual New Zealanders enhanced.
When I went on the TV show Close Up late last year, I asked viewers to write to me about the problems they’d been having with their councils.
I got literally a sackful of mail.
Once it was known I wanted change in the local government sector, people wrote to me en masse.
I’ve had around 1100 people letters so far, and more come in each day.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the extent of the problems people are having with councils.
I accept that much of the overbearing regulations and petty restrictions imposed by councils come from government legislation such as the RMA and the Building Act.
And that’s why we’re making changes to both.
The first raft of changes to the RMA was announced earlier this month.
There will be more work on the RMA and related issues.
Next, we’re looking at the Building Act.
I’m working with Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson on these improvements.
But that’s not all.
The practice of central government imposing more and more obligations on councils, which leads to more costs being passed onto ratepayers and the wider public, must stop.
I understand that just to put a Para Pool in your background for the kids will take months to get the paperwork done, and can cost thousands of dollars.
That’s just for the council consent alone – which can cost up to fifty per cent as much as the pool itself.
Families can’t afford a Para Pool because of the council costs and even if they can do so, they may not get the consent through in time for a swim till next summer.
Some of these situations impact directly on just a few people.
Others affect many.
But the cumulative effect of getting rid of them will be substantial.
Like smoothing out a whole series of small potholes in a road.
Much of the problem lies with poor legislation.
But councils have also become very risk-averse and over zealous.
Earlier this week I visited a fantastic New Zealand business that is being driven to its knees by local council demands.
It’s one of many in that situation.
The company is called Access Automation, based in the Hutt Valley.
Simply trying to carrying out their everyday business is now a nightmare.
They constantly have to battle councils just to carry out their business.
They make cable cars to give people access up steep hill sides and cliff faces, which we have a lot of in Wellington.
It’s a clever, innovative, and successful company.
But it only has eleven workers.
That makes it a typical New Zealand company.
There’s not a lot of fat.
Over the last four years, the council rules and regulations about what it can and cannot do have got tighter and tighter.
The company is now at risk – and so are the jobs of those eleven people.
Two and a half managers now spend 80 per cent of their time filling out council documentation simply to get resource consents.
No matter what is provided, the council wants more.
More reports, more analysis, more information, more data, more forms to be filled in.
Blah blah blah.
It’s taking nine months to get a resource consent to put in a cable car …
… so that an elderly lady can get to her house easily up a steep cliff from the street.
Things have got much worse over the past four years – as the council throws more and more absurd barriers in their way.
They get contradictory advice from council staff, departments don’t talk to each other, and they often have to deal with different people from the ones they dealt with last week.
The guys at Access Automation are being ground down.
The company’s at risk, the jobs are at risk, but imagine the combined effect of the same thing happening to thousands of similar companies around New Zealand.
They’ve had enough. They want change. And they’re not alone – as I said earlier, my mail bag confirms that.
So do my emails, and conversations from people who come up to me all the time at airports and events around New Zealand.
It’s my belief that we can and we must do better in local government.
That means greater transparency and accountability.
Getting our costs down.
Greater respect for taxpayers and ratepayers, and their rights.
Ending the petty red tape that’s tying us up in knots.
We need to make it easier for New Zealanders to go about their business and everyday lives … not harder.
Together we can do it.
New Zeal Thankyou Rodney. At last a Minister who knows who he’s working for.