14 June 2012
The Government is currently tinkering with the role of local government through the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill. The key change being sought is to redefine the role of local government. The clause in the Local Government Act 2002 that they wish to replace is:
”to promote the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of communities, in the present and for the future.”
They want to replace it with:
“to meet the current and future needs of communities for good quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.”
In other words, the role of local government is, according to those who promote this change is rats, rates, roads and rubbish.
This is a great pity because the growing interest of local government in education and social outcomes has become the example being trotted out to justify the change. The previous Minister of Local Government, Nick Smith, prior to being driven out of the Cabinet Room by the dark comedy that is the ACC, became strident in his criticism of the Auckland Council – “what are they doing having targets for NCEA and all that!”
Well put simply, they are reflecting government policy, supporting it and stating that their region will also commit to those goals. In fact the early drafts of The Auckland Plan, by including the NCEA Level 2 target was actually running ahead of the Government target subsequently established in the Better Public Service Targets of having 85% leave school with NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) by 2016. Perhaps the development of good public policy is a shared responsibility rather than being a process driven by officials and party politicians who are often remote from the realities of the towns in which people live in?
The Manukau City Council, back in the 1990s, set about to provide a set of policies that would enable the Council to advocate for its citizens. The resulting Economic Development Policy, Employment Policy and Education Policy documents all led to material improvements in the well-being of those living in the south of Auckland. And this at a time when the input of central government was having little effect.
In education, the Education Policy led to establishment of the City of Manukau Education Trust (COMET) which contributed a range of significant developments – Youth Transition Services, Youth mentoring, Family Literacy for example – and became a major partner of the Manukau City Council in advocating for improved access to early childhood education and suchlike. At the end of this month and in response to the new local government arrangement in Auckland, COMET will become the Community Education Trust Auckland and extend its activities over a wider region.
The education goals in The Auckland Plan are improved access to early childhood education, NCEA Level 2 and a postsecondary qualification. These are entirely synchronous with Government Policy. Why then have such goals? Because by committing to them the Auckland Council can then report on the success of the central education system in achieving them in Auckland. Advocacy on behalf of its citizens is surely the key goal of local government. Is it the scenario of the central government being answerable to local government for outcomes that startles the ponies in Wellington?
And local government is ideally placed to promote integration and co-ordination of education within its areas. The Auckland Council has established the Auckland Tertiary Education Cluster – an organisation that can bring together the tertiary education institutions of Auckland in a way that goes beyond the reach of the Tertiary Education Commission and the Ministry of Education in effecting collaboration and co-ordination. Having institutions seek ways of working together is surely in the interests of central government, indeed it might even be its policy!
There are other examples of effective activity by local government – Otorohanga and the work of the Council with local youths on successful transitions from education into training and into employment springs to mind. How can that not be government policy? There are other examples. Perhaps local government throughout New Zealand should be making their local members more aware of what they are doing.
It is not that local government through a commitment to education and social outcomes is setting out to do the work of central government. Rather it is more a case that local government has a role on behalf of its citizens in seeing that central government does its work! Advocacy for the needs of an area, the welfare of its citizens and the general health of communities is both local and a central matter.
Education is greatly enhanced by the activity of local government in working alongside the centres, schools and institutions of their respective areas. It is not a good time to be arguing that central government alone and on its own can do the job.
(Note: The Local Government and Environment Select Committee has not called for submissions on this Bill.)
 The Local Government and Environment Select Committee has not called for submissions on this Bill.