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Insights 28: 29 July 2016
Read our latest report - The Local Benchmark: When Smaller is Better
 
Register for the Auckland semi-final debate: Monday 15 August
 
Register for the Wellington semi-final debate: Wednesday 10 August

Walk the localism talk
Jason Krupp | Research Fellow | jason.krupp@nzinitiative.org.nz
As a crude rule of thumb, presenting at a conference is always easier when you are telling the audience something it wants to hear. That was the case when I launched The Local Benchmark: When Smaller is Better at the annual Local Government New Zealand conference on Monday.

One of the main messages of the report is that the devolution of decision-making power from central government to local communities can make them stronger and more prosperous. That is certainly the case in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and increasingly the United Kingdom, where local authorities have much more control over their affairs than here in New Zealand.

It was doubly well received as it followed Prime Minister John Key’s speech on the previous day, where he reiterated his government’s commitment to pursue amalgamations in the sector.

Outright amalgamations are not popular among communities or local officials, as judged by the failed bids to merge councils in the Hawkes Bay, Northland and the Greater Wellington regions. Nor are amalgamations by stealth, which is how many in the sector regard the Better Local Services Reforms.

It has yet to be established whether local officials took in the other key message in the report, namely that if they want expanded responsibilities, then they have to prove they are up to the task.

Greater Manchester worked for 30 years on its partnership with central government. In the Netherlands, the local government association has worked to lift performance in the sector over a similar period to reassure central government that it is dealing with credible partners.

Local government here has a ways to go yet. Our local authorities consult extensively, even exhaustively, but unless you are a lawyer most of us are locked out of the planning process. Councils are also required to produce cost benefit analyses on major spending decisions, but in practice these can amount to little more than a list of pros and cons.

Hardly a basis for building trust.

The Initiative has long been a proponent of devolution and localism as a means of improving the pace of economic growth and promoting regulatory efficiency. That belief has always been based on local government acting as a capable, accountable and responsible partner. If councils truly want greater autonomy, they need to prove to central government they are up to the task. In other words, walk the localism talk.


The love of teaching does not pay the mortgage
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow | martine.udahemuka@nzinitiative.org.nz
Today the average Auckland house would put close to a $1million dent in your pocket.

Meanwhile a competent teacher’s salary increases yearly and is capped at the seventh year at the mid $70,000 mark. 

You do not need to be a maths teacher to see the problem with this equation. 

You may have recently seen the ‘we can’t find teachers because housing is too expensive’ stories in the media again. 

With regards to the housing matter, last month, Dr Oliver Hartwich offered a seven-word fix: “Build more homes. And build them now.”

But what about the teacher shortage problem? 

Schools that can afford to have come up with solutions. Some are luring teachers with accommodation subsidies, others are spending big on recruitment for overseas teachers. 

The Ministry of Education too is running recruitment drives to bring Kiwi teachers home.
 
But these are band-aid solutions: They may get the teachers to Auckland but they cannot keep them. 

The issue is both one of attracting and of retaining the talent. Yet, school leaders are restricted in what they can do to meet these needs. Restrictive pay rules can work against schools and teachers.

Those weighing up returns from a teaching career and realising their earning potential has little to do with how good they become at their craft may be deterred from the get-go. And those who can no longer afford to work as teachers are already voting with their feet: either leaving Auckland schools or looking to other professions.

Employees in other sectors face the same challenges but may have an easier time charging more to reflect Auckland costs. The problem with the teacher deal is the one-size-fits-all pay rules across the country. All else being equal, a teacher in Whanganui likely gets paid the same as one in Auckland city.

Answers to the teacher shortage equation may be more than seven words but are also seemingly simple: Signal to teachers that their worth will be recognised, provide a premium to offset the cost of living, and give school leaders greater flexibility to manage their staffing needs. 

Money is not the only thing that matters for teachers but for Auckland schools and their students, it is starting to matter a lot. Love and passion will only take teachers part of the way. 


Making Wellington great again
Dr Rachel Webb | Research Fellow | rachel.webb@nzinitiative.org.nz
I have a confession to make…I may be an illegal alien in Wellington. 

I never got official permission to move here. I never went through customs at the port. It can’t be long until I am discovered by the Wellington immigration officers and promptly deported back to Christchurch.  

Calls for the government to curb immigration are getting louder. But everyone is ignoring the much bigger migration issue: the uncontrolled flood of South Islanders into our beautiful capital.

The post-quake exodus of Garden City residents will have changed the face of Wellington irreparably. Why weren’t urgent procedures put in place to check the criminal backgrounds, language abilities, and qualifications of the Christchurchians before they breached the North Island shores? 

We hear that immigrants steal jobs, drive down wages, bid up house prices, and ruin the very fabric of our society with their incompatible cultures. Am I not causing similar difficulties in my new city? How could I possibly be of benefit to Wellington if I never had to prove myself to a bureaucrat?

When The New Zealand Initiative hired me, they possibly could have found a local instead. It’s disgraceful that the council did nothing to stop me from stealing this job from a proper Wellingtonian. A ‘Wellingtonians first’ policy requiring employers to give priority to locals would have prevented this travesty.

I can say from first-hand experience that the supply of houses in Wellington is tight. My presence here has surely displaced a hapless Wellingtonian. The council could look into stamp duties for non-locals purchasing houses. 

As a native English speaker I wasn’t anticipating language difficulties. However, I have had trouble translating the alphabet soup of initialisms in the Wellington dialect. Screening tests for incomers on their ability to differentiate between ministry names and medical conditions should be enacted immediately. 

Cultural integration with the public servants and hipsters (not necessarily mutually exclusive) is another hurdle. Perhaps I should have been made to sign a values statement swearing allegiance to craft beer and political discussions.

I could understand my new fellow city-zens being fed up with this rampant invasion. Those calling for more restrictive immigration policy should set their sights higher. Why stop at foreigners when we could control internal migration too?

But as a recent migrant I should be careful what I say. I wouldn’t dare rock the boat that I am stowing away on.
 
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