Sunday, 10 May 2009

Councils focus on core activities

Back in February, I blogged about New Zealand's Rodney Hide, who described himself as ‘Minister for Ratepayers’.

Hide, the Minister for Local Government under the new National-led Parliament, wants local councils focused on the basics to reduce their costs and to be more accountable to their ratepayers.

So, you may knock us Kiwis but we seem to cut through the bureaucracy with plain commonsense, something that is desperately needed under the present Cairns Regional Council.

Conservative Councillors like Blake, Cochrane and Bonneau have contributed to destabilising confidence and any remaining faith the community had in this one-year-old Council. What Councillors Blake and Bonneau were thinking when the set up the patsy question at last month's meeting to the Mayor, about her knowledge of a financial deal with Radio 4CA, I don't know. It did nothing but create a hostile relationship with the community.

The New Zealand business community is right behind the Minister for Local Government’s efforts to rein in Councils.

The OECD in its recent report on New Zealand expressed concern about local government spending and rating and its moves beyond basic local services.

At a Local Government forum , it was acknowledged that central government understands the seriousness of the recession and the need to tighten belts, yet far too few Councils seem realise that times have changed.

The meeting said that reforms are designed to focus Councils on core activities and to reduce the cost of local government must proceed with urgency and the range of reforms proposed by Minister Hide, are long overdue.

“As observed by the OECD, weak democratic accountability is part of the problem behind spending and rates rises," the forum said. "There are insufficient checks and balances on local government and there is therefore a real need for more effective monitoring of its performance and activities."

Queensland's State Minister of Local Government, and the Cairns Regional Council, should take serious note of this theme across the Tasman.

They stated that the key role of local government should be to provide local public goods that cannot be more efficiently provided by the private sector. It would bring into question that various bank guarantees that Cairns Council has been widely criticised for, including the widely unpopular under-writing of the Cairns Taipans.

Most local authorities in New Zealand have strayed far beyond this, the forum acknowledged.

"The end result has been an explosion in rates, which seems likely to continue according to the councils’ own plans. The weakness of local democracy means they need to be brought back into line by central government."

Why does all this sound way to familiar?


nocturnal congress said...

"....weak democratic accountability....." one of the results of corporatising local government.

Alison Alloway said...

"nocturnal" and I seem to have had similar experiences in working in both bureaucratic and corporate cultures. One of my first shocks in the corporate culture was witnessing the office manager "fudging" the client statistics to disguise the fact the agency was failing. Telstra, QANTAS, Centrelink, all have been corporatised and all are experiencing major problems. "Fires" are starting all over...from badly maintained QANTAS planes, Sydney's dodgy water supply, to "Dr. Death" in Bundaberg, suicide of Telstra employees, to Centrelink boasting of increasing its amount of monies raised as debts and even CRC's "Cash for Comment" debacle. Some academics have started researching the downside of corporatisation, ie Emeritus Prof Charles Birch and Prof Margaret Thornton, however the research is still patchy.
There is little doubt that corporatisation diminishes transparency and human values. Unfortunately, as I have discovered, politicians have no interest. We are left with investigatory journalists like Mike here to expose the problems and start the long, hard road to change. It won't be easy.

nocturnal congress said...

Ditto, Alison. If you want to do any more research on corporations, check out google on "investigations of CEOs" or "private investigations of corporations". You will find, that just like in Cairns, an entire new industry in "private investigations" has grown up around the corporate culture. Incidentally, in Canada these "private investigation" companies now do comprehensive background checks on CEOs...checking their childhood in particular, talking with neighbours old school teachers, school friends etc. Why? Sociopaths usually leave a record behind in their childhood...cruelty to other kids, torture of animals etc.
When I saw that, I just laughed like Christ. We remember the days when promotion was based on experience. Sure, old Bill or old George may have been unimaginative and dull after years of slogging away at the red tape, but they had demonstrated their honesty, accountability, trustworthiness, and earned the respect of all. Above all, they had demonstrated year after year that they were SANE, decent human beings.

S. Northy said...

It seems hard to believe the changes in twenty years of corporatisation. People work harder and longer and complain of stress. My friend who works in aged care in Cairns told me that 5 staff were rostered on during one night over the week-end to care for 190 frail elderly residents. Aged care is one area which is suffering greatly from corporatisation and scandal after scandal surfaces with regular monotony. My friend asks, "Who will listen? Who will do anything?" I tell her, "Just pray to God we don't grow old."

Alison Alloway said...

A far cry, "nocturnal" from the days when the Government Auditor and his staff arrived in the office to do the yearly office Audit! How we all held our breaths until the Manager passed on our report at a staff meeting. Yes, the old bureaucratic culture was accountable. Old Bill and old George (and old Mabel) may have taken twenty-five years to become the Manager, but as you said, they had demonstrated their honesty and decency and were well respected by the staff. As I write this, I am remembering two local public service managers who consistently performed client contact duties, sitting right at the front reception. As one explained, "If a Manager isolates himself from the public, then he is no longer a public servant." Unfortunately, these personal characteristics are not valued by corporate cultures.

Cairns Resident said...

"nocturnal", I checked, and yes, there has been an explosive growth of "private investigations/security etc" for corporations. (Certainly hasn't deterred the massive fraud and mismanagement by America's finance corporations). One wonders at the extent to which these "investigation" firms are in the corporations or CEOs pocket.

DP Cairns said...

Rob Pyne says it all in his letter to the editor today
It looks like maintenance services will be cut such as roads, drains,parks,street sweeping etc
Maybe CRC should get rid of the many over paid consultants and deadwood in the place and improve the infastructure of Cairns
Thanks from another unhappy ratepayer.