Local government changes must not erode local democracy

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National's Better Local Services reforms must not be used as a back-door way to force council amalgamation and privatisation, the Public Service Association says.

Minister Sam Lotu I'iga claims the reforms will deliver better services to ratepayers, because it will allow for more shared services and greater use of Council Controlled Organisations.

But the PSA believes ratepayers could end up carrying more risk as a result of these changes - and with less say in how their community services are run.

"The government's reform agenda clearly sees greater amalgamation at council level as the way to deliver better results," PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay says.

“The PSA is not opposed to amalgamation if ratepayers want it – but to date, these proposals have largely been rejected by New Zealanders.

"These changes will force amalgamation by stealth, with Council Controlled Organisations able to work across different regions with very little accountability.

“We believe this will lead to gradual erosion of local democracy."

The Better Local Services proposals may also make it easier for council assets to be privatised.

"We want assurances that ratepayers will retain the right to decide how services are delivered in their communities,” Mr Barclay says.

"And we want a guarantee that crucial services like utilities will remain in public ownership.”

The government has indicated it wants to change the law before this year’s local elections.