LGNZ conference report back

With some of the Local Board delegates at the LGNZ Conference in Nelson (L-R David Collings- Howick Local Board, Efeso Collins – Otara- Papatoetoe, Ruby Manukia-Schaumkel – Whau,   Lotu Fili, Otara-Papatoetoe  Simon Matafai- Whau, Ami Chand - Whau)
With some of the Local Board delegates at the LGNZ Conference in Nelson (L-R David Collings- Howick Local Board, Efeso Collins – Otara- Papatoetoe, Ruby Manukia-Schaumkel – Whau, Lotu Fili, Otara-Papatoetoe Simon Matafai- Whau, Ami Chand – Whau)

I attended the LGNZ Conference 2014 in Nelson as the Waitematā Local Board’s delegate.

The theme of the conference this year was: Powering local economies| Building vibrant communities.

The conference provided an excellent networking opportunity and a forum to develop thinking and expertise to best fulfil the role of local government. Recent research by LGNZ on New Zealanders’ views of local government showed that New Zealanders value local decisions by local people. On the other hand, local government needs to better explain what it does, the value it adds to local communities, and to account more for its performance. As Lawrence Yule said at the opening of the conference not enough New Zealanders understand the size and importance of local government in economic development and growth.

I found sessions that spoke to the challenges facing local government to be of most value but overall the programme lacked content relevant to the role of local boards. This has been a consistent theme over the 3 LGNZ conferences I have attended since the super city was established and I would very much like to see LGNZ address this for the conference in 2015 to be held in Rotorua.

Here are highlights from the conference programme*  (In preparing my report I have drawn on my own notes and the LGNZ conference media releases available at here)

Transforming towns and cities to build strong local economies and vibrant communities

Paul Piscale, Mayor of Ipswich

Mayor Piscale provided one of the most entertaining presentations of the conference.  He unwaveringly  maintains a positive attitude to create a happy community. Some of his initiatives include welcoming everyone for example hosting baby ceremonies.  I liked his refusal to play the blame game but to take responsibility for mistakes (this reminded me of Mayor Len Brown taking responsibility for the RWC opening night fiasco) .

Although Piscale claims to be strong on community engagement I found his boast that his 3 -term group of councillors ensure they bash everything out behind closed doors before having just a 15 minute public meetings a dubious approach. I wondered if the people of Ipswich think a positive, happy mayor compensates for the lack of democracy and transparency.

[Since the conference I have read that Piscale is being investigated for corruption]

The changing face of our regions opportunities and risks Shamubeel Eaqub, Principal Economist NZIER

Mr Eaqub is a straight talking economist. He spelt it out to the regions that the rest of the country shouldn’t envy Auckland as Auckland must succeed as a conduit to rest of the country. He also made the observation that there is a weird belief that if you shackle growth in Auckland it will show up in regions when in fact it will show up in Sydney.

He spoke to a number of challenges that local government has to confront. For example you cannot stop urbanisation. Young people are seeking opportunities, seeking density. He says this is a good thing.

He talked about the unstoppable forces (widening gap of technology, globalisation, urbanisation, aging) and called for place- based policies as a burning platform for change.

Globalisation – growth in future going to be close to us (China) but going to be challenging as all our institutions face west

Aging – means older people will have a different role in the economy. They will stop working and will be asset rich but income poor. Has an impact on rates affordability. How to get vitality of economy if don’t have workers – unstoppable force but question of how to take advantage.

Immigration can create loss of social trust. Need to use in a constructive way. A conversation of shared progress not of racism and envy. Technology is a good thing but has come at a cost. We’ve created an underclass of people who can’t access technology.

In talking about place based policies he quoted Enrico Moretti (The new geography of jobs) “Build on existing capabilities by leveraging local strengths and expertise”

He asked what is success? (GDP doesn’t cut it) and looked for a way ahead that needs a shared vision of a better NZ. Mr Shamubeel’s suggestion is for an inclusive NZ where everyone gets a fair go – if not then going in the wrong direction.

Factors that make Wellington based Xero a global success and why businesses locate where they do Rod Drury CEO, Xero

In the LGNZ media release it states that Mr Drury spoke about the opportunities for regional New Zealand and ways that local government can work with business to lead economic transformation.

“New Zealand is the country furthest away from its trading partners.  Technology is changing the game, allowing even service based businesses to play globally.  We’re moving away from manufacturing and export production to having strong knowledge based businesses, like Xero.  As location becomes irrelevant New Zealand regions are well-positioned as the ideal balance between lifestyle, creativity and working globally,” Mr Drury says

However Drury did not have a prepared speech and instead invited the audience to ask questions. He managed to pull it off because he comes across as a really nice guy operating an amazingly successful company.

My favourite response

Q: Should New Zealand build more malls?

A: No, we should build more cycleways and paths

Lifting governance and financial performance

Caroline Saunders, Professor of trade and environmental economics at Lincoln University and Dr Ganesh Nana, Chief Economist, BERL

Dr Nana and Prof Saunders spoke about the need to understand the uncertainties governing our future development, and the local implications of these trends, is essential for councils as they begin planning for the 2015 – 25 long term plans and infrastructure strategies. They discussed the nature of the social and economic factors driving change and reflected on the likely impact these pressures will have on New Zealand’s future development path.

Prof Saunders outlined that we need to think about value-added activities and what regions are good at, what they’re passionate about, and how to assess how that fits with the global environment and economy.

If want to grow regions must focus on high value not low cost and play to specialities (She considers Auckland to have identified strategic sectors with professional services accounting for 68%).  Emerging markets will pay a premium for NZ food with “credence attributes” such as ethical and fair trade food.

Dr Nana started his presentation by apologising for what economists have messed up over the last few years!

He said that the world is changing fast and New Zealand needs to think about its shared vision for the next 20, 30 and 40 years ahead. If interested in future have to make groups better off than today. Decisions today will make losers tomorrow

He suggested this needs to be a conversation between central and local government.

Taking advantage of Nelson's cycleways to bike to the conference venue from the hotel in Stoke
Taking advantage of Nelson’s cycleways to bike to the conference venue from the hotel in Stoke

Workshop: Economic impact of cycleways       

In opening up the workshop the Mayor of Dunedin Dave Cull shared what the Chancellor has told him. The number One question of those looking to re-locate to Dunedin to work at the University is “Can you cycle to work?”

This workshop reinforced the huge economic benefits to be derived from investing in cycling backed up by impressive data.   As case studies we heard about the success of the  Motu cycle trail and the newly opened Tasman Trail.

–       45 extra jobs created

–       $5.1m contribution to local economy

–       25k cycling tourists

–       Mostly local residents but predicted to rise to 50% overseas visitors in next 5 years

From Hasting we heard from the Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers about the success of the NZTA model communities’ investment:

–       Target of 20% short trips by 2020

–       Injury crashes trending down

–       Safety trending up – cycle crash rates have halved

–       Increase in females exercising daily

Her tips:

–       Need to be bold and do it properly

–       Be resilient

–       Successful because of strong leadership

–       Powerful communities advocates

–       Clear vision of what you need

–       Don’t underestimate the community ability to change

–       Businesses have been turned around because of cycling

Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister

At the start of day 2 of the conference the PM addressed the conference.   I found his trumpeting of the investment by National in roading to be predictably short-sighted and out of tune with future transport trends.  The PM stated that investment in roading is a big part of future growth with the GPS recognising the importance of regional and local roads.

The RONS investment is $3bn of which $2bn state highway, $1bn local roads $913 co-funded.

He claimed his government is getting the balance right between environmental responsibilities and economic growth.

The PM also announced that Local Government Minister Paula Bennett will establish a Central Government and Local Government review group known as the Rules Reduction Taskforce.  “This Taskforce will listen to local concerns and find opportunities to reduce and improve local regulation.  It’s part of our response to the Productivity Commission’s report on Better Local Regulation, which Paula and Bill English released this morning.” He said

Hon David Cunliffe, Leader of the opposition

Cunliffe started his address with reflection on the  Waitakere City Council funded urban renewal of New Lynn. He saw this as an example of a successful local government and central government partnership working with the local business community.  Required a vision of local government based on the four well beings.

He believes we should be the fairest and most decent society in world that puts people first.

The Hon Cunliffe announced Labour’s new policy that seeks to identify the opportunities and barriers to growth, and will introduce practical measures to create change.  Labour’s $200 million regional development fund, he says, will be released over four years for projects that will have community-wide benefits and generate jobs in regions across New Zealand.

National events from metro to grass roots – needs, opportunities and key success factors for a town hosting a major event Therese Walsh Head of New Zealand ICC cricket World Cup 2015

Ms Walsh spoke about the international trends of hosting events:

  • Increased commercialism
  • Increased expectation of sponsors and investors
  • Public sector investment
  • Significant competition

NZ disadvantage of distance but the advantage of excellent relationships

Ms Walsh told the conference that global or major events – especially those that are truly national and span the country – give New Zealand and its communities a chance to shine in the competitive landscape of major events and that events rely on cities, towns and local communities to bring them to life.

“What does success look like for host city?  There is a hygiene factor – that they are delivered well, that teams and fans are welcomed, that ratepayers and local communities participate and enjoy major events, and that they activate business and tourism.  It is critical to the delivery of an effective event that resourcing including airports, police, transport all works together with councils,” Ms Walsh says (LGNZ media release).

Making localism work through innovation

Kobus Mentz, Director, Urbanismplus,  David Hammond CEO, Thames Coromandel District Council and Suzie Johnston, Managing Director, Oosh

Paul Walden (Waiheke) and Danielle Grant (Kaipatiki) sit at one of Nelson’s outside dining areas using former carparking space
Paul Walden (Waiheke) and Danielle Grant (Kaipatiki) sit at one of Nelson’s outside dining areas using former carparking space

I was particularly interested in Kobus’ presentation as he has worked with the Waitematā Local Board on the Ponsonby, K’rd and Newton plans.

Mr Mentz says that how partnerships are formed is important to making things happen in a community.  He discussed a number of planning projects where various entities had been involved in attracting capital, for an outcome that would benefit a community, such as the retail environment University Hill in Melbourne that was enabled by zoning and came to fruition through local government working with business, and a creative quarter in Melbourne that saved heritage buildings and became a place in the community for creative industry jobs to locate.

“Having the right conversations with right people in right way is pertinent to an outcome.  Councils have a critical role to play in setting the pre-conditions for employment growth and community well-being, which underpins sustainable communities.” (LGNZ media release)

He spoke about arts investment has a return of 11:1 compared with road projects rarely reaching higher than 4:1. He challenged politicians to calculate the evidence bias

I was also very impressed to hear about the community empowerment that has taken place in the Coromandel district.   The CEO explained about the steps taken to decentralise service delivery, budget and decision making delegations, revenue setting, and planning and development. They are looking to establish integrated local leadership with one vision (The TCDC community empowerment video shown at the conference is worth a watch)

The final speaker at the conference, Suzie Johnson ended with a super positive presentation about her success with investing in small towns. She strongly recommends developing good relationships with Council, networking and asking for things in a positive way.

Attendance costs

My conference registration, accommodation (x 2 nights), Nelson transfers and my airfare to and from Nelson were paid for from a Local Board Services professional development budget.

I hitched a lift to and from Auckland Airport