An efficiency drive that could spell the end to days of
public hearings on councils' annual plans has drawn mixed
responses from within the Dunedin City Council.
A recommendation to axe the requirement for councils to
prepare and consult on annual plans was included in an
independent report released this week by the Local Government
The report recommended councils prepare long-term budgets -
undertaken every three years - in the first year of their
term, but then only annual budgets for the remainder of each
The annual budgets would not require consultation unless they
triggered an amendment to long-term plans, the report
The proposals contained in the task force's report were
expected to feed into the Government's Better Local
Government reforms already under way, as part of a second
Local Government Bill next year.
However, the suggestion public consultation needed to become
more efficient drew a mixture of applause and criticism from
within the Dunedin City Council on Thursday.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said providing a formal mechanism for
the public to express their views on council plans each year
could generate ''good, constructive conversations'', but
could also be ''quite onerous''.
''We don't have too little consultation ... our annual plan
submissions process gives everyone the opportunity to come
and talk to us, but it's an enormous demand on our staff and
our councillors,'' he said.
Changes to that process would not spell the end of
consultation, as the council already sought feedback in a
number of other ways - including the People's Panel,
stakeholder groups and a regular public forum, he said.
''I don't think we'd necessarily lose a great deal ... it's
not like we are not talking to the community.''
Council chief executive Paul Orders said the report's
recommendations contained ''a healthy dose of common sense''.
Existing arrangements were ''something of a curate's egg -
good in parts but also overly prescriptive'', he said.
''Robust dialogue between councils and communities is a
pre-condition of healthy local government, and this needs to
continue whatever the regulations.
''But current rules also lead to a tick-box regime that
baffles the public with complexity.''
However, some councillors were divided by the proposals.
Cr Richard Thomson - a first-term councillor - said he had
expected to ''absolutely hate'' the council's annual plan
process, but instead had been pleasantly surprised by the
quality of many submissions.
There was room for improvement, and axing the process would
promote efficiency and save money, ''but I think you would
lose some other things that I think are quite important'', he
Cr Jinty MacTavish agreed, saying reduced consultation would
see councils ''moving backwards''.
''Democracy is only effective if it's participatory ... an
annual discussion about priorities is a really useful
However, Cr Lee Vandervis welcomed the report, saying annual
plans were an ''annual sham'' and the suggested changes ''all
sound very sensible to me''.
He continued to support consultation on long-term plans, but
believed too much time and money was wasted consulting
annually on ''every little detail''.
''They are accounting exercises to make everything look OK,
when we know damn well it isn't.''
The report said the Local Government Act was based on
representative, rather than participatory, democracy.
However, that had become blurred, creating confusion and
resulting in ''extensive consultation when it is not
required'', the report said.
It recommended amending the Act to reaffirm the
representative nature of local government, stressing
decision-making remained with elected members, and giving
councils more flexibility to decide when to consult their
That should include axing annual plans and their
consultation, which ''no longer has the relevance it had''.
''We consider that the annual plan in its current form is
inefficient and ineffective,'' the report said.
Other proposed changes included adopting a
''principles-based'' approach to consultation, giving
councils flexibility to decide when and how to consult, and
limiting the use of special consultative procedures to the
long-term plan process.
Long-term plans should also be simplified, based on ''the
analogy of an iceberg'', where the ice above water
represented information in the plan.