Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 20 July 2018
For six years, the Initiative has been arguing the case for localism. Pointing out that New Zealand is one of the most centralised countries in the world, we have called for a radical shift of political and fiscal power from the centre to communities.
When we started our campaign for localism, it was a fringe idea. At best, people thought it was unrealistic. At worst, they thought we were crazy to propose giving more power and money to councils.
But the more we have explained our case, the more people understood this is not what it is about. Localism is not about having a bigger or a more taxing government. It is all about shifting government decision-making closer to the people affected by it – to make it local. Hence the name.
On Sunday, we reached a milestone. With Local Government New Zealand, the Initiative launched Project Localism. Over the next eighteen months, LGNZ and the Initiative will investigate how a recalibration of government can be achieved.
We will consult with experts and stakeholders from government, business and academia. We will hold public events and ask for submissions. We will engage widely to get the best ideas for better government.
We are pleased that the Government has also announced an inquiry which will happen in parallel to ours. Minister of Finance Grant Robertson has tasked the Productivity Commission with a comprehensive study into the operations, finance and funding of local government.
The two inquiries have the potential to cross-fertilise each other. From the Minister’s announcement we can already see a good degree of common ground and overlap. This is positive because New Zealand’s broken centralism will require a lot of work to sort out.
The political feedback on our inquiry has been encouraging. Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said that he understood the problems facing local government and was open to ideas.
Opposition leader Simon Bridges also welcomed our initiative by pointing out that better incentives for a more competitive local government sector would be a positive development.
With such cross-party openness to our Project Localism, and with the Productivity Commission also on the case, we hope that we will make progress on moving towards better local government over the coming years. The chances for decentralisation have never been better.