'Sea of uncertainty': Parry slams long-term plan process

The Gore District Council is set to take the lead to abolish next year’s long-term plan and is questioning the plan’s very existence, saying the local authority sector is in a state of disarray and uncertainty.

Interim chief executive Steve Parry will deliver a report on long-term plans (LTP) at a council meeting today, recommending the council be an advocate to delay the 2024 plan.

He said plans were chiefly an exercise in compliance and accountability, the primary audience being auditors as opposed to the community.

"Standing back and looking at the issue objectively, undertaking a 10-year plan every three years does seem to be overkill,’’ he said in the report.

He compared LTPs and the state of local government with modern rugby.

"As that game has been burdened by constant rule changes, inconsistent interpretation, and the growing influence of the television match official, so has, arguably, local government,’’ he said.

"The increasing emphasis on compliance, as distinct from innovation and creativity, has strong parallels with rugby union, with the influence being wielded by those that are remote from the ‘field of play’. This does not enhance spectator engagement, with LTPs remaining an esoteric subject to many.’’

Mr Parry said accountants had gradually overstepped their mark and were "giving advice on the nuances of language ... akin to a soccer player advising on rugby union tactics’’.

Mr Parry was requested to prepare the report by Gore District Mayor Ben Bell.

Drawing up the plans was like a marathon for a council and it was a "massive sense of relief’’ when they were finally adopted, he said.

But this time around, the chaotic state of the Three Waters reform made the task of developing a LTP far more difficult.

Since 2017, the local government sector had been subjected to a tsunami of reports on options for reform of Three Waters, he said.

"This has generated a fair degree of resignation and fatigue within the sector, not to mention a high degree of uncertainty.’’

Mr Parry said in his report that after five years of facing hostile headwinds, the local government sector found itself having to give effect to legislation recently passed, yet knowing that the new government, in all likelihood, would be looking to repeal those enactments.

But it will take a long time to come up with other options.

"There is a real fear by many that draft LTPs will be well advanced and then potentially railroaded by an unexpected policy change of the new government.’’

He had suggested a delay of the LTP earlier this year at a Local Government NZ meeting and although he had support, it was cautioned by officials in Wellington.

"But with the plan development now firmly on the immediate horizon and the sea of uncertainty that exists with the future of Three Waters, coupled with the general stress and fatigue on local councils given the funding pressures and reform agenda advanced by the last government, confidence levels are very low.’’

Councils would struggle to achieve the adoption of a legally compliant LTP by July next year.

He suggested the LTPs be abolished for next year but instead an annual plan be carried out.

That might lead to LTPs being done every six years, which he was comfortable with.

"The sector is in a state of disarray and uncertainty. The time now appears opportune for a mature discussion about deferring the need to complete a LTP to give the sector an opportunity to take stock and import some certainty and consistency in its operating environment. "

— Staff reporter