Bigger is not necessarily better – and probably won’t be in the case of the proposed new mega water services entities, Federated Farmers says.
While there are problems with three waters delivery and infrastructure and change is necessary in some areas, the approach outlined in the Water Services Entities Bill is deeply flawed, Feds national board member and local government spokesperson Sandra Faulkner told a select committee today.
“We believe strongly in keeping the local in local government and we are strongly opposed to a centralisation agenda which seems to be driving so much policy, not just in water services, but also in RMA reform, health sector reform, polytechnics…the list goes on.
“There seems to be an obsession in Wellington with bigger is better and that bigger entities deliver economies of scale that will drive down costs,” Sandra said.
But analysis done for the Communities4LocalDemocracy group of councils by respected economic consultants Castalia “has taken apart the modelling relied upon by the Government and laid basically laid bare the flaws in its approach”.
The Government’s own Infrastructure Commission has found in a recent research note that there is no relationship between the size of a council and the efficiency of council activities including roading, building consents, and governance.
“Will the likes of roading, waste management and building consents be next for centralisation away from local councils?” Sandra asked.
Plenty of farmers are supplied by council owned and operated water supplies, and not just rural water supplies which may revert to community ownership and operations. There are also a lot of farms which adjoin or are close to urban areas and are supplied by town and city water supplies.
“Many farmers, as significant ratepayers and strongly rooted in their local communities, still care deeply about our councils and what they see as an attack on local democracy.”
The rural voice will be diluted in centralisation of these essential services, and local councils will be “hollowed out”, Sandra said.
“There seem to be a lot more bureaucracy and cost associated with the four entities’ multi-tiered governance arrangements and the various advisory groups and forums that will be set up to try and replicate what we already have – local voice and accountability.”
Federated Farmers argues the pause button should be hit on the 3 Waters reforms to allow room for more community discussion and analysis of alternative set-ups that will not be so remote from the people they serve.