Media release: Put the government back into Local Government

Media release
21 November, 2016

Wellington (21 November 2016): It is time to put the government back into local government and limit central government’s interference in what councils should be doing. Let councils get on with the job, says The New Zealand Initiative.

“Around the world, successful communities are marked by systems that let local government make decisions and make them responsible for getting the job done,” said The New Zealand Initiative’s Executive Director Dr Oliver Hartwich.

“It is significant that the current Government’s attempt to further crimp the powers of local government faced a revolt from local government. Enough is enough they are saying.

“At The New Zealand Initiative, we think the answer is straightforward. Change the Local Government Act 2002 to put clear responsibilities and accountabilities on local government and thereby clear limits on central government.

“Central government has spent 160 years interfering in areas that should be the responsibility of local government and as a result neither do their job well. The current proposals are just another example in a long history of getting it wrong.

“With the recent election of new mayors in our two biggest regions, Auckland and Wellington, and an established proven mayor in Christchurch, the third largest region, it is time for change. New Zealanders’ lack of support for the local government elections is proof enough that communities up and down the length of New Zealand regard local government as largely irrelevant.

“We need innovation and local solutions to local problems and the challenges of economic growth, of housing, of roading and all those other issues that affect people’s lives and that someone in Wellington cannot solve with their so-called ‘national solution or policy’.

“There are issues to be sorted such as revenue sharing by central government, requiring councils to consult citizens and to secure mandates on key issues require the use of local referenda, and where central government does believe in a national policy have a formal means by which local government can apply to opt out.

These are the central recommendations in The Local Manifesto: Restoring Local Government Accountability, which was released by The New Zealand Initiative, a public policy think tank today. It is the third in a series of reports on local government that has included extensive overseas study of other models.

“We have seen devolution of responsibility to local communities at work in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and increasingly the United Kingdom. Far from a recipe for disaster, they have proved to be a formula for success – all three of these nations rank in the top 10 of the Global Competitiveness Index,” said Hartwich.

The report extensively describes how central government’s paternalism towards local government knows no bounds. Recent examples of policy intervention include dog control laws, freedom camping rules and efforts to amalgamate councils into bigger local authorities.

The current situation in New Zealand creates what the report calls an “accountability gap”. This is where communities are unable to tell which tier of government is responsible for specific services, who is driving costs, or who is setting the quality standards.

To fix this, the report proposes that councils be made fully responsible for all services they currently perform, with limited scope for central government intervention. A necessary check and balance is that councils pay for any costs that their decisions impose on central government.

The report is written by Research Fellow Jason Krupp. It is the third and final local government report in a series that includes The Local Formula and The Local Benchmark.

This report will be launched with an event and panel discussion in Wellington this evening, Monday 21 November. On the panel alongside author Jason Krupp is Lianne Dalziel, Mayor of Christchurch and Kevin Lavery, CEO of Wellington City Council. You can register for the event here.

In this short video, author and Research Fellow, Jason Krupp discusses the report findings.


Jason Krupp and Dr Oliver Hartwich are available for comment.

Media contact:

Simone Evans, Communications Officer
The New Zealand Initiative
Phone: +64 4 494 9109
Mobile: +64 21 2937 250

About The New Zealand Initiative
The New Zealand Initiative is an evidence-based think tank and research institute, which is supported by a membership organisation that counts some of the country’s leading visionaries, business leaders and political thinkers among its ranks.

Our members are committed to developing policies to make New Zealand a better country for all its citizens. We believe all New Zealanders deserve a world-class education system, affordable housing, a healthy environment, sound public finances and a stable currency.

The New Zealand Initiative pursues this goal by participating in public life, and making a contribution to public discussions.

For more information visit

Stay in the loop: Subscribe to updates