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Building the best local government

19 Jul 2015

LGNZ President, Lawrence Yule – opening speech at the 2015 LGNZ conference


Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, honoured guests, sector partners, and most importantly members of local government.

Kia ora.  Welcome to the 2015 Local Government New Zealand conference. 

It is an honour to be in Rotorua. 

Changing local government

One of the many prominent visitors to this city, George Bernard Shaw, said progress is impossible without change.  What was true eight decades ago is highly relevant to local government today.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) and its constituent members are embarking on one of the most far-reaching changes to local government seen in New Zealand.

We are doing this to put ourselves and our communities in the best position to manage significant issues such as regional economical development, demographic shifts, climate change, and the impact of technological change and global market forces.

The reforms are not structural or imposed changes that grab the headlines. As councils and as a sector, local government is advancing a comprehensive Performance Uplift Programme to show leadership and lift performance of services we offer our communities, increase value, change perceptions and future proof communities.

We are doing this because we know local government is performing well in many areas – however, we can do better in others.

We know there is more value and leadership to be realised from local government, at a community, regional and national level.

We know we can tell our story better. 

We know we can earn a better reputation.

Most important, we know what customers and constituents want.

We were bold enough to ask communities, local business and national stakeholders what they wanted from local government.

They think local government is important.  They want us to succeed.

But they said there are areas where we need to do better.

It became even more apparent that a new approach was essential to make progress. 

These changes involve how well we perform, particularly in leadership, financial management and communications with our communities.

The Performance Uplift Programme and other delivery initiatives will result in effective actions to improve and realise more real and perceived value.

Change means cultural shifts – how we see our communities and regions, our services, our role, how we do business, and how we consult, work and communicate. 

Any change can be challenging as well as rewarding.

The real difference is that our changes are consensual and by sector agreement. 

Local Government New Zealand has consulted every council in New Zealand, many stakeholders and central government to arrive at the Performance Uplift Programme.

This is a pleasing strategic conversation about the real issues and topics that matter to delivering improved performance by councils and the local government sector.

I acknowledge you all for contributing to our direction of change.


Self-directed action

Ladies and gentlemen, three years ago central government legislated for local government to be “better”. 

Today, we have increasing momentum for positive and self-directed change.

We are working more effectively as a sector, and being recognised for it.

I am confident that we can and must go beyond “better” local government – we must aim to be the “best” local government.

Best local government means strong local leadership and effective delivery of services locally that are valued by our communities, regions, businesses, stakeholders and by New Zealand.

That is a highly valuable and accountable process of change. 

While there is no end-point, our direction is clear. 

Through our work, there will be local, regional and national benefits. 

We will provide even better essential and valuable services and infrastructure every day. 

We will work more closely with communities, regions, businesses and stakeholders to listen and solve important issues.

We will continue to promote our communities and regions as great places to live and work.

We will continue to help deliver stronger economic growth.

We will continue to be the lifeblood of strong communities and regions.

We will work even harder to make New Zealand a better place.

In doing all these things, we acknowledge local government is doing many things right but it can improve its leadership, value, interactions and accountability. 

We need to move beyond just okay – we need to be the best.

We accept that we will be judged by our actions.  That is how it should be. 

I am pleased to report that as councils and a sector we have the work plan, cohesion, confidence, direction and the will to be the best local government for our communities, for our regions and for New Zealand.

Local and central government marching together

Let me address the national interest, seeing we have the honour of the Prime Minister’s presence.

Local government works for communities and regions – and for New Zealand.

Central and local government should march together, should work together, should be true partners.

This is a point missed by some commentators who relish in our differences.

We both want to make New Zealand a better place to live and work.

National and local economies are closely connected. 

That is why we have assiduously championed urban, rural, provincial and regional New Zealand.

The future of New Zealand and its economic aspirations are driven by the sum of its parts.

We want a country where there is no urban/provincial divide.  Where opportunities are realised in Opotiki as they are in Auckland.

Stronger communities and regions across New Zealand mean a stronger New Zealand.

That truly is New Zealand Inc.

As such, the interests of local and central government are shared.

Central and local government agreed priorities

Today I am pleased to announce jointly with the Prime Minister that central and local government have agreed on priorities for cooperation that will benefit local, regional and the national interest.

These three priorities, which come off the back our recent Central and Local Government Forum, are:


  1.  Creating strong regional economies across all of New Zealand;
  2.  Resilient local infrastructure; and
  3.  Ensuring resilient communities across New Zealand.


This is a significant and concrete announcement on which we can build future action.

These priorities represent bridging the central/local government divide and fundamentally a new era in mutual respect between both arms of government.

The priorities also build off areas where we are already working closely with the Government including:

  • The Local Government Funding Agency – which has enabled significant savings for communities on funding for community infrastructure;
  • The 3 Waters project – to lift the quality and deliver efficient performance of our drinking water, waste water and stormwater infrastructure and services;
  • LGNZ’s partnership with the NZ Transport Agency on roading infrastructure; and
  • Our recently announced work with the Crown to look into a potential Local Government Risk Agency.

There will be a work plan to implement each of these three priorities which will include the actions above.

These priorities will support our own Performance Uplift Programme and other initiatives for local government. 

Together, the agreed priorities, the Performance Uplift Programme and other initiatives build on progress we have made. 

With our partners, stakeholders, communities and regions, local government and LGNZ are leading the charge for our communities and regions. 

That is a great start to be the best local government for New Zealand.

It’s also a great start to our 2015 conference.

Ladies and gentlemen, on that positive note I declare the conference open and invite the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John Key to address you.