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LGNZ Queenstown conference report back

LGNZ Conference, Queenstown 15-17 July 2012

Introduction

I attended the LGNZ annual conference on behalf of the Waitemata Local Board with funding from the Board’s professional development budget.

The conference was billed as “Taking inspiration from those mountains that characterise a spectacular landscape, this conference will celebrate all that’s remarkable in the local government sector”

This report back has been prepared to provide the Board with the points I found relevant from the main speakers and the key themes that emerged from the conference. I have also included observations on the LGNZ programme and what I think could be improved for next year’s conference.

Hon David Carter, Minister for Local Government

In opening the conference Carter spoke about the Better Local Government reforms in the context of current economic challenges and the fiscal constraints imposed by central government. He attempted to down play the impact of the proposed reforms by claiming that he is looking  to the wisdom and advice in the room to get the reforms right. He also claimed it is not an “us and them” but a partnership.

David Carter came across as less ideologically driven that his predecessor Nick Smith and willing to engage with local government which made me hopeful that he will see sense through the select committee process.

Vanessa van Uden, Mayor of Queenstown

I had the opportunity to meet Vanessa at the social drinks on the evening before the conference opened (sponsored by Simpson Grierson). I was impressed by her down to earth attitude and straight talking.

Vanessa spoke as the host mayor at the official opening.

Lawrence Yule, President LGNZ

I was impressed that Lawrence spoke directly to David Carter and the prime minster in questioning the refocus of the purpose provision and signalled that a unanimous motion was passed (at the LGNZ AGM) which confirms the sectors view that there should be no change to the purpose clause of the Local Government Act.

He described the four well beings as useful statutory signposts to councils to focus on community wellbeing outcomes that have not been responsible for raising rates.

He emphasised that local government must be able to have partnership with central government and not just act as a functionary.

Prime Minister John Key

The prime minister’s speech to the conference was focused on justifying the Better Local Government reforms. He wants local government to be operating efficiently and in a way that builds on the government’s priorities for building a competitive and productive economy. He acknowledged that services matter to the community but it is a matter of getting the balance right.

The prime minster told the conference that there needs to be a refocus on local government’s role to allow it to perform more efficiently and play a role in reducing NZ’s debt.

Graham Henry

Building a remarkable team

This was an entertaining presentation particularly for the boys of local government that would have been better suited to an after dinner speech.

As Graham Henry said when attempting to make a correlation between the All Blacks’ success and politics “I’m finding it hard to make a correlation and I’m not sure why I am here.”

To be fair to Henry I did manage to pick out some take away points from his comments that can be applied to effective local boards such as empowering team members and enjoying yourself.

Fran O’Sullivan, NZ Herald Business editor

The Central Local Government Nexus – Local government’s role in the growth agenda

I think this presentation was one of the most thought provoking and relevant of the conference as O’Sullivan spoke directly to the Auckland reforms which were ignored by nearly everyone else. She was also hugely encouraging of local government and its role in knitting communities together and tackled why the role of local government should not be limited by government.

She highlighted that the destiny of NZ is in the hands of local government because we are big hitters generating 4% of GDP and controlling $100 billion of assets.

In her view the prime minister has not come up with a vision for partnership, only that the reforms are designed to keep rates down. She outlined the areas of government underperformance including leveraging the benefits of FTAs, housing & employment and public transport.

I agree with her view that the Auckland reforms were a relative success but there is irony that the Mayor is not getting over the line with his transport projects when the government is asking for money to fund their projects. She asked Auckland to consider the critical question of what do you want to be famous for?  Her suggestion is to focus on back end financing and hosting of HQ’s.

In looking at top growth trends O’Sullivan called on cities to leverage what they do best and the assets they have.  She ended by calling on local government to “Grab power. Make destiny!”

Martin Sneddon, CEO Travel Industry Association

The visitor economy

From a tourism perspective Sneddon outlined why the visitor economy is a powerful and profitable partnership with local government.

He recognised the importance of local government for tourism that can’t be replaced by central government that doesn’t know local communities. It was encouraging that he agreed (when asked by a delegate) to make a submission opposing the removal of the four well beings.

Hon John Brumby, former premier of Victoria

The world in transition – opportunities for the future

This presentation highlighted the importance of local leadership and action in responding to global challenges (which he defines as geopolitical, technological, epidemiological and environmental). Brumby gave examples of how local government working in partnership can be a major driver for change and economic growth. In his view the best solutions are local.

Brumby’s comments were very apposite at a time that Better Local government reforms are attempting to restrict the role of local government. In his view we should be focusing on arts & culture, tourism and lifestyle of our residents (which I note could all fall outside the new purpose provision).  For example the quality of life in a city is a major issue in decisions about where high earning new migrants and returning expats decide to live.

Annette King and Russel Norman were invited to speak briefly to the conference. They both emphasised that the proposed reforms of local government are not well thought through and not supported by any evidence to justify the change.

I think it was really essential to have a range of political views at the conference and that these presentations would have encouraged many delegates to consider the importance of making submission on the proposed reforms.

Phil O’Reilly

NZ business low down

This presentation was a good reminder of what business love and care about. O’Reilly gave the examples of quality infrastructure, transparency, green growth (he claimed that NZ’s brand is NOT clean and green but NZ is the actual brand).

However I found his comments on the scope of local government to be completely out of synch with the views from the conference and what we had learnt from other speakers.

He claimed that the scope of local government has gone too far, is competing with local businesses and that LG is duplicating targets that has resulted in a disconnect with government (such as waste to landfill). However he was unable to back up this claim with any examples.

His test of whether local government should be involved in the provision of services depended on whether it was a public good or private good. The test he applied is   “If you can charge for it, it’s at the private end of the continuum”.

I don’t think this test has been well thought through. For example if this were applied literally it would mean that local government should not provide swimming pools even with an entry charge.

The LGNZ programme

The conference was organised by Local Government New Zealand, the national voice of local government. The president Lawrence Yule did an excellent job representing local government throughout the conference and is to be congratulated for confronting the government’s reforms head on.

However I felt that the LGNZ programme failed to make the most of the Auckland reorganisation and ignored local boards completely.  Thanks to Penny Hulse and Penny Webster a hastily organised extra session was provided for delegates to hear more about the good and bad of Auckland Council but it was clear that there was huge interest from delegates in learning more about the Auckland experience that went unsatisfied.

Transport was another area that was not covered well by the programme which was a missed opportunity as transport has arguably been the biggest winner of the Auckland re-organisation.

I hope that next year LGNZ will present a more balanced programme, catering to all members and that directly addresses local boards within the conference.

Conclusion

The conference was held at a critical time in local government as the government mounts a serious challenge to local democracy by seeking to change the purpose provisions. I think the conference was a wakeup call to many delegates that the four well beings need to be strenuously defended.  Almost all the speakers recognised the essential role of local government in economic development and building community wellbeing.

The conference wasn’t quite “remarkable” because it failed to make the most of the Auckland reorganisation and the new role of local boards within the programme. However I think the programme offered a broad range of useful learnings from the speakers and workshops that had relevance to our role and provided opportunities for professional development.

Overall I think it was beneficial to attend the conference to ensure that the local boards are adequately represented within LGNZ, to gain a deeper understanding of local government and to network with the wider sector.

Conference expenses

LGNZ Conference and AGM Resolution number WTM/2012/138

MOVED by Member Chambers, seconded Member Thomas:

a) That the report be received.

b) That Deputy chair Pippa Coom attend the Local Government New Zealand Conference to be held in Queenstown from 15-17 July 2012.

c) That the conference registration, travel and accommodation expenses for Deputy chair Pippa Coom to attend the Local Government New Zealand conference be allocated from the Waitemata Local Board’s professional development budget to a maximum of $2,500 consisting of:

i) $1,385 registration fee (early bird fee)

ii) $440 accommodation (approx – depending on availability)

iii) $400 airfares (approx – depending on availability)

iv) $275 meals and transfers (approx).

Final Costs (TBC)

Registration $1385.00 (early bird rate including lunches, morning and afternoon teas, conference dinner and social function) 
Airfares $  456.00 
Accommodation $  420.00 (2 nights at the Millennium Hotel –   Conference venue) 
Meals $     72.00 (Sunday dinner and one breakfast) 
Transfers Nil (dropped off   and picked up from airport by family members. Carpooled in Queenstown)
 Total    $2333.00

 

My partner Paul Shortland accompanied me to Queenstown at his own cost

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