Farmers have a keen interest in local government. Councils are responsible for the regulation of natural resources, including land, water, and air, which are of great importance to farming. Councils also regulate other activities, such as building, dog control, etc., and they provide critical infrastructure and a wide range of community services.
Roles and Responsibilities
Federated Farmers believes councils should be focused on core services, such as good-quality local infrastructure, local public services, and performance of regulatory functions that is most cost-effective for households and businesses. This is the best way councils can contribute to community wellbeing.
The Productivity Commission’s 2013 Inquiry into Local Government Regulatory Performance was highly critical of central government processes and also expressed concern about capability of many councils to effectively respond and undertake new or expanded roles. The Inquiry made a number of recommendations to remedy the situation but disappointingly very few have been picked up by the Government.
Restructuring councils into fewer, bigger units has been promoted as a way to reduce the cost of local government, including in Three Waters and other services. In some cases it might be true but the evidence is mixed with many bigger merged entities overseas and in New Zealand growing bigger and more remote from their communities and costing more to run rather than less. Strong opposition has killed recent attempts to amalgamate councils into larger areas and is manifesting itself in Three Waters reforms.
Federated Farmers has no national position on specific cases of local government restructuring. Any position to support or oppose a specific proposal is made on a case-by-case basis at a local level, weighing up the pros and cons for farmers.
Federated Farmers believes that meaningful reform is needed into the funding of local government to reduce the reliance on property value rates.
Modern local government is broadly empowered in its roles and responsibilities but it is restricted to a narrow, archaic funding base, which is over-reliant on property value-based rates. Property value rates bear no relationship either to a person’s relative ability to pay or use of a service. Rates prevent communities from fully assessing the costs and benefits of council activities and rates are a heavy tax on farmers’ key asset, land, to pay for activities many of which they rarely, if ever, use or benefit from.
The situation is exacerbated by central government new or strengthened legislation and regulation on local government often with little engagement with the councils who are expected to implement and enforce the changes, let alone provision of funding for councils to carry out the resulting work.