Tuesday, May 4, 2010

ZenTiger Community Consultation under threat?

Kent Duston, Acting President of the Mt Victoria Residents Association makes some observations about the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill, which is designed to “improve transparency, accountability, and financial management in local government.”

Its principles are:

• that local authorities should operate within a defined fiscal envelope:
• that local authorities should focus on core activities:
• that local authority decision-making should be clear, transparent, and accountable.”

Ken Dunsten claims that the amendments to the bill will also strip local communities of their consultation rights.
Under the proposals in the Bill, the community consultation for LTCCPs would be completely removed – and then in a move that would make George Orwell gasp in admiration, Councils are constrained by the Bill to only being able to undertake activities that are included in the LTCCP.
I reviewed the bill changes and don't quite see it. There is still a requirement to consult on the plan (Sections 84 and 85), and they are guided by the principles of consultation as set out in sections 81, 82 and 83.

What has been deleted from the 2002 act is Section 88, which removes the need to consult if the mode of service delivery changes (as distinct from the outcome of that service).

This would presumably allow a Council to outsource recycling (say) to a contracting company providing it still delivers the same community outcome, without needing to go to the community for consultation on that decision. Is this undemocratic? Not necessarily. Providing the council follows an open tendering process to outsource work, or complies with the CCO provisions, their decision can be questioned, and even challenged on other grounds, through other processes.

This move allows Councils to act efficiently, without cost to transparency, and there remains a requirement to achieve the stated outcome.

It inhibits arguments from the public around the Council's decision on how to execute on the plan to achieve the agreed outcome, but it wouldn't stop their elected Councilors from running with an issue if there is any public reaction.

Also repealed are sections 91 and 92 which outlined reporting requirements on measuring outcomes. As far as I can tell, these have been wrapped up in the requirement to report on the progress towards the 10 year plan, via the annual plans.

Duston disagrees with me though:
The effect of these changes will be that local consultation processes become nothing more than window-dressing. The days of making submissions to Council that result in material changes will be over, as will the chance to seek judicial review of decisions. The Council will become nothing more than a rubber stamp for policies that implement their Long Term Plans – which will all be decided behind closed doors. Communities would no longer have any worthwhile consultation input into either the strategic direction or the day-to-day activities of their local councils.
Again, I don't quite follow how he got to that point. Presumably, he will make a submission covering his logic and I will attempt to see if a serious flaw in the legislation has been created.

I agree with him on the importance of Community Consultation. It is vital in a vibrant democracy, and providing input into the Council's long term planning process is something Council's should be fostering and supporting.

I was more concerned with a comment against this story that discussed the pressures between the LTCCP (10 year plan) and the Annual Plan.

The Annual Plan is mainly there to report on alignment to the 10 year plan, and measure progress and restate goals, objectives, costs and outcomes. However, it is reasonable to assume that a 10 year forecast cannot anticipate every eventuality, and as new issues emerge, or new information necessitates a rethink in the longer term strategy, the annual plan provides a mechanism to explain to the public what those changes should be, and invite feedback before they are ratified. That's good.

The downside is that the Annual Plan may be misused to re-prioritize services and budgets promised in the 10 year plan, which undermines the point about committing to long term goals using the 10 year planning framework. If the Annual Plans consistently find excuses to deviate from the 10 year plan, the long term goals might be completely missed.

I think that is why ACT's Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (2010) seeks to confine (or at least focus) Councils to deliver first and foremost on core services. Whether the proposed changes will help achieve that particular goal remain to be seen.

Link from Scoop: Threat to local democracy

The Original Act is here: LGA 2002

The Amendment Bill is here: LGA 2002 Amendment Bill

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