27 Oct 2009

Cabinet approves local government shake-up

3:42 pm on 27 October 2009

The Cabinet has approved a shake-up in the way local government is managed but the proposals will not be publicly released until councils are informed.

Local Government Minister and ACT Party leader Rodney Hide took the results of a local government review to Cabinet on Tuesday and describes the decisions that have been made as far-reaching.

The proposals include a new definition of core services to be provided by local councils, the greater use of referendums and opening up council books before local body elections.

Mr Hide says the Cabinet has instructed him to tell councils the details before they are announced in couple of days.

The minister has backed down on the issue of core council spending. Seeking to rein in rates rises, he had vowed to change the Local Government Act to force councils to focus only on what he called "core services".

Mr Hide initially favoured councils sticking to core spending, including roads, water and rubbish collection, as well as services such as libraries.

The minister's office confirmed the backtrack, but declined to comment further until after the Cabinet meeting.

Minister has broadened his view - Carter

Associate minister John Carter says Mr Hide has broadened his view and recognises different councils have different priorities.

The president of Local Government New Zealand, Lawrence Yule, says Mr Hide has been able to see first-hand the vital role played by councils play in the community so the change of attitude is not unexpected.

But Auckland Mayor John Banks says the change of mind is misguided and premature. He says rate rises continue to spiral out of control and the Government needs to act.

The Labour Party's Auckland issues spokesperson, Phil Twyford, says Mr Hide now also needs to abandon his plan for compulsory local referendums on large project expenditure.

Such referendums would have consequences, he says, including forcing councils to cut services like water roading and libraries - or privatise assets.