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Education, housing tipped as areas for council input

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Local government can do more for its communities but only if the funding is made available.

That is the message coming from Local Government New Zealand, which cites the Mayors’ Taskforce for Jobs (MTFJ) programme as an example of where councils can step in and even save money.

‘‘Because councils have relationships with communities and with local NGOs, they can leverage those relationships,” Local Government New Zealand president and Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton said.

‘‘Whether it is education or housing, I think we can have a conversation where councils can play a part.’’

Discussions around truancy, school lunches and school building projects have been in the media recently, along with the housing crisis.

Not all councils will have the capacity to take on extra responsibilities, but there should at least be the option – provided funding is available, Mr Broughton said.

‘‘In Selwyn, we have agencies which are contracted to deliver services to Christchurch and Selwyn, but because of the demand we don’t even see them in Selwyn.’’

Hurunui District Council chief executive Hamish Dobbie said the only central Government services based in the Hurunui district were schools, police, emergency services and the Waikari Hospital.

When funding was made available, it was often ‘‘too prescriptive’’ and did not always meet the needs of local communities.

‘‘With the MTFJ, the Government set the outcomes it wanted to achieve and made the funding available, and we were able to come up with our own programme.’’

Mr Dobbie said the success of MTFJ programme was in connecting employers with young people and getting results where the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) was unable to achieve outcomes.

Staff found there were a number of unemployed young people living with their parents who were not registered as unemployed.

‘‘There is youth unemployment which MSD just isn’t aware off,’’ Mr Dobbie said.

‘‘The idea that they are not going to go to Rangiora to sign up just doesn’t cross their minds.’’

Through the programme, staff have been able to help unemployed young people to become ‘‘valuable assets’’ for local employers.

Mr Dobbie said the council provided social housing and employed compliance officers, so it could help the Government achieve outcomes in housing and even school attendance.

The Waimakariri District Council joined the MTFJ programme last year, and Mayor Dan Gordon said his council is keen to partner with central Government more often.

He believed councils could play a greater role in addressing housing shortages by partnering with central Government.

‘‘We want to partner with government departments and work to ensure the needs of our district, Greater Christchurch and North Canterbury are being met.

‘‘True devolution would allow for local solutions to be made to address local problems, however it would require funding to be made available.’’

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown said the Government has agreed to ‘‘an ambitious programme of work’’ to tackle the housing crisis, called Going for Housing Growth.

‘‘As part of this programme we will look to improve incentives for councils and communities to go for housing growth.

‘‘This includes investigating the best mechanism to give effect to a ‘Build for Growth’ policy, where councils receive a share of economic dividend from new housing supply.’’

Mr Brown said the Government was also committed to ‘‘restoring local control of local government assets’’.

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

■ LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.



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