Plan deemed a double-up

Rodney Hide
Rodney Hide
Local Government Minister Rodney Hide has introduced an amendment to rules surrounding local government transparency and financial management, but its effect, if it gets through Parliament, seems anything but clear at this stage.

As mooted at a Sister Cities New Zealand Conference in Dunedin earlier this month, it contains measures Mr Hide said in a statement would "improve the transparency, accountability and financial management of local government".

The amendment, introduced to Parliament yesterday, would be to the Local Government Act 2002.

Asked for a copy of the amendment yesterday, a spokesman for the minister sent the Otago Daily Times a discussion document that listed plans that would allow councils to make greater use of the private sector in delivering services, and a new financial strategy to be included in long-term council community plans (LTCCPs).

The plan to force councils to open their finances in new ways was questioned by Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin after it was announced at the conference.

Mr Chin said the information was already available through council annual plans and other sources, and the new regime would simply create new costs for councils.

The discussion document released yesterday mentioned a new financial strategy.

"This strategy, which will be included in long-term plans, will set quantified limits on rates and debt.

"These limits will guide future decisions about rates increases, expenditure levels, and how services are to be paid for."

Dunedin City Council finance and strategy committee chairman Cr Richard Walls said last night he would have to see the full amendment before he could make sense of the issue.

He said he understood what the minister was trying to do, but was not sure Mr Hide had any idea what the effect would be.

The council produced a simplified overview of its strategy in the City Talk magazine, and a more detailed version in the annual plan.

The changes were being introduced "by the people who gave us what we've got"; the Government.

"It's just adding more costs," Mr Walls said.

"It sounds fine, but the information is already there."

The document said the amendment would reduce restrictions on the use of the private sector by councils.

"It is important to note, however, that this Bill is not a means towards privatisation of local government assets."

Cr Walls said those provisions appeared to be targeted at Auckland, and he did not think they would have an effect in Dunedin.

Discussing the impact of the changes, the document said if people had a better understanding of how much proposals may cost, they could decide whether they wanted their council to provide particular services, and at what level.

"For example, measures such as the financial strategy, plain English financial information, and the pre-election report could help to rein in council spending by giving the public clearer and more accessible information."

- david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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