Local government report proposes raft of changes to get better outcomes for communities

Local communities are not well served by the current relationship between central and local government and changes must be made to fix this, an independent panel has found.

The Panel for the Review into the Future for Local Government has released its final report. It includes a package of recommendations to deliver better outcomes for local communities by embedding local government's purpose and well-being focus, growing authentic Te Tiriti-based partnerships, system renewal, strengthening local democracy and leadership, and increasing funding.

It was described as the most significant review of local government since the 1989 reforms and the 2002 Local Government Act.

In its report, one recommendation to increase access and representation in councils included:

  • providing for a four-year local electoral term
  • adopting ranked voting (also known as single transferrable vote or STV) as the nationwide method for local elections
  • lowering the threshold for the establishment of Māori wards
  • enabling Te Tiriti-based appointments to councils
  • lowering the voting age for local elections to 16.

Additionally, the report calls for a new dedicated Crown department to facilitate a more effective working relationship between local and central government that focuses on:

  • a relational-based operating model to align priorities, roles, and funding
  • brokering place-based approaches and agreements to address complex challenges and opportunities
  • research, development, and innovation capability that equips local government to maximise intergenerational well-being for its communities.

There are also five recommendations to increase funding for local government. Among them, the report suggested that central government pays rates on Crown property and it develops an intergenerational fund for climate change.

Panel chair Jim Palmer said they have spent two years listening to local councils, central government, iwi leaders, community and business representatives, rural communities, minority and interest groups, and the public to identify what they want, need, and expect from their local government system.

"Local government and communities must be empowered to build local solutions for national-level problems, with vital collaboration and funding from central government," he said.

Councils need to change how they operate, Palmer said. The panel also recommended a redesign of councils' operating models, new approaches to leadership, and new council structures.

While councils are doing "innovative and impactful" work in their communities, Palmer added they are hampered by a lack of funding and day-to-day pressures.

During the review, the panel said it saw many examples of successful partnerships between mana whenua and local councils, which can give a template for future partnerships between iwi and local government.

The 17 recommendations in the report are designed to be implemented together, along with a roadmap with suggestions on the first steps forward for local and central government.

"Advancing the recommendations is critical to making sure local government can deliver the services and infrastructure needed for healthy, thriving and resilient communities for years to come," Palmer said.

"This will require strong commitment from both local and central government to re-examine how our institutions work together."

The panel said it expects these conversations to continue and broaden with the recent release of the Productivity Commission Fair Chance for All Report.