There’s no surprise that three of the Wellington City Council’s four options for reforming local government in the region involve abolishing the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
It’s an idea which is being pushed from the top. Before he lost his job, Minister of Local Government Nick Smith had signalled (via a Listener article) that “a key reform will be abolishing the regional council system.”
A few weeks earlier, Kent Duston had written that he didn’t see benefits in a supercity for Wellington but there was a simple way to achieve the vast majority of efficiency gains whilst simultaneously improving local democracy – by disestablishing the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
This is not the hare-brained idea it may seem on first blush. Greater Wellington raises around $130 million in rates and other revenues from local families and businesses each year, and gets about $140 million in subsidies from central government. And around 70% of that income goes straight back out the door in public transport subsidies, a job that certainly doesn’t require a Chair, 12 Councillors and a matching bureaucracy to oversee. A further 20% of Greater Wellington’s expenditures are in water supply and flood protection, a job that already has the inter-Council coordination of Capacity.
The Wellington City Council seems to agree. In three of its four options for local government reform, the regional council would be abolished. (The other option is for no change at all – something which will surely gather little support.) The council is seeking community input – with a deadline of 29 June.
It has rejected a regional council proposal for a panel of experts to say what needs to be done. Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says a majority of her council want a community-led process open to different views and options, “rather than a panel of worthy independent people.
“There is wisdom in our community from grassroots to academics. We want to hear from all parts of our cosmopolitan communities. And I, along with most of my colleagues, don’t want to cede our political responsibilities to an unelected panel. I want to hear from Wellingtonians first.”
The Hutt City Council confirmed today that it, too, is backing input from the community rather than experts. Mayor Wallace said that his council had declined an approach from the regional council. It seems that Porirua is the only city which has agreed to become involved with the regional council’s panel of experts. But will it be willing to listen to its community as well?
March 26: The race for local government reform
March 26: Wellingtonians must have clear choices
February 23: Government wants to abolish regional council