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56% support Govt move to refocus councils

21 Nov 12

56% support Govt move to refocus councils
Auckland council planners at work ... infrastructure at 57% first choice for rates use

80% think their councils have lost focus and 56% support Government moves to redefine their role.


These are among the main findings of a Horizon Research survey of 956 adults nationwide in August, 2012. Commissioned by the New Zealand Centre for Infrastructure Development and weighted to represent the 18+ population, the survey has a maximum margin of error of +/-3/2%.


Overall key results summary:


  • 80% think councils have lost focus
  • 56% support a Government bill to refocus councils on providing local infrastructure and services in the most cost-effective ways for households and business


  • No council-provided service surveyed rates 50% or more as providing good or excellent value


  • 52% want council activities cut to reduce rates


  • 56% of people have had to deal with councils over regulations, nearly half saying the experience was satisfactory, but only 14% say it was positive


  • 35.7% want the Resource Management Act changed, 14.6% don’t while 49.7% are not sure


  •  39% think there are too many councils in New Zealand, however


  • There is a close call on replacing the current 78 councils with 12 to 14 provincial ones:  Opposition (37.2%) was slightly higher than support (34.3%), and 20% were neutral, indicating they could move either way.


  • On 12 factors measured, there is a majority view that the affect of amalgamation would be the same or improved on 10 of them, specially in reducing duplicated services


  • Most disagreement is based around loss of local identity and community focus if there were fewer councils.


Refocusing councils’ purpose


Eight out of 10 New Zealanders think councils have lost focus on what is important and need to refocus on core public services, infrastructure and regulation.


56% support Government proposals, now before Parliament, to refocus the purpose of local government on “providing good quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and business”.


This rises to 64% among rate payers.


Only 18% overall support retaining the current focus which requires councils to provide for four wellbeings (economic, environmental, social and cultural.) While 80% think councils have lost focus on what’s important, 80% also believe it should be up to communities to decide what services are provided and how much they should pay for them.

Key findings:


Knowledge and understanding of local government:

  • Respondents were more likely to know the name of their local mayor than that of their Member of Parliament.  78% said that they knew their mayor’s name, in comparison with 65% who said that they knew their Member of Parliament’s name. 
  • Only 33% of respondents said that they knew the name(s) of the councillor or councillors who represent their area or ward.
  • Less than half of those who know their mayor's name also know their councillors’
  • Aucklanders are less likely to know the name of their mayor, councillors or Member of Parliament than people in other parts of the country.
  • 36% have some understanding of the role and activities of local government.
  • Auckland ratepayers were less likely than non-Auckland ratepayers to have good or strong understanding of what local government does.
  • Only 28% of respondents said that their knowledge of their councils’ policies was “good” or “strong”.
  • The level of Auckland ratepayers who say that they do not understand their council’s policies is almost double that of ratepayers from other areas.


Council performance – Value for money:

  • Around a third of all respondents rated each council service measured as neither good value nor poor value.
  • None of the services surveyed achieved a combined “good value” plus “excellent value” rating that was 50% or more.
  • Sewage is seen as the best value service, with an overall combined “good value” plus “excellent value” score across all councils of 49%.
  • Water and sewage received the highest “excellent value” ratings, with 11% and 8% respectively, but “excellent value” ratings on all other services were at 5% or less.
  • Cost control was rated worst, with 39% rating it as “poor value” or “extremely poor value”.
  • 47% of Auckland Council respondents rate their council’s cost control as “poor value” or “extremely poor value”.
  • Auckland Council ratepayers consistently rate the value for money of their council’s services lower than ratepayers in other areas rate the services from their councils. 
  • Respondents and ratepayers outside Auckland generally felt that they got better value from their local council than from Central Government, but poorer value from their regional council.
  • As a contrast, Auckland ratepayers rated the value for money overall from their council as poorer than the value from Central Government. 


Changes in Council activities:

  • 52% of ratepayers believe that their council should reduce activities to achieve lower rates.
  • First choice for reduction or removal of activities is Cultural activities.
  • Last choice is reduction or removal of infrastructure services.
  • 48% overall said that they would not be happy for rates to rise to extend or enhance services.  Only 7% overall said that their council should increase rates to extend or enhance services.
  • “Infrastructure” was the first choice (57% overall) for use of additional rates, but receives more support from ratepayers than from non-ratepayers, who would prefer to see enhanced environmental protection and social services.
  • “Environmental protection” is second choice overall for enhanced or extended services.
  • “Cultural activities” is the last area that people would consider for enhanced or extended services that increased rates.



  • 56% of ratepayers have had to deal with their council’s regulations.
  • Nearly half of them overall said that the experience was satisfactory, but only 14% said that it was positive.
  • Generally, the experience for non-ratepayers was more positive than for ratepayers.
  • On average, respondents rated their council’s performance with its regulatory functions as “satisfactory”.
  • Auckland ratepayers rate their council’s performance lower than other ratepayers rate their councils’.


Resource Management Act (RMA)

  • 57% of respondents said that neither they, nor any organisation they worked with, had been unfairly treated or penalised by the Resource Management Act.
  • 12% of respondents said there had been unfair treatment.
  • A third of respondents rated the RMA as having a negative effect on the economy, while a third rated it as having neither a positive nor negative effect.
  • 30% rated the RMA as having a positive effect on the environment.  16% said that it was having a negative effect.
  •  37% of respondents rated the RMA as having a negative effect on individual rights.
  • Auckland ratepayers assess the RMA’s effect on individual rights more negatively than other ratepayers.
  • 49.7% of respondents are not sure whether current resource management law should be changed, although 35% would like to see change to the law. 14.6% do not want the RMA changed:





Like to see change to current resource management law


In your opinion, have you, or any organisation you work with, ever been unfairly treated or penalised by the RMA?



Not sure






A. Change





B. No change





C. Not sure












Auckland Council model:

  • 22% of Auckland ratepayers assess the impact of the local government reform which created the Auckland Council as more positive than negative. Among all respondents, 36% rate it as more negative than positive.
  • 27% of all respondents felt that creation of the Auckland Council would have no effect on other regions or communities in New Zealand and an equal percentage felt that it would force further amalgamations of councils.
  • 18% think that it will disadvantage other regions in New Zealand.
  • Only 11% of ratepayers from outside Auckland feel that their councils will need to “lift their game” to compete with Auckland.


Provincial Councils:

Opinion is nearly evenly split on a suggestion that New Zealand’s 78 current councils could be reformed into 12 or 14 provincial councils.




  • Overall opposition to the provincial council concept (37.2%) was slightly higher than support (34.3%), but was just within the margin of error for this survey.  20% were neutral on the idea, indicating that they could move either way.
  • 39% of all respondents think that there are too many councils in New Zealand. 24% disagree.
  • In general, ratepayers (and in particular, Auckland ratepayers) were more likely than non-ratepayers to think that there were too many councils
  • On 12 factors measured, there is a majority view that the affect of amalgamation would be the same or improved on 10 of them. Most agreement is based around the cost of duplication of services and staff functions, and the perceived cost savings from reducing the number of councils.
  • Most disagreement is based around loss of local identity and community focus if there were fewer councils.
  • Economic development and “Voice with central Government” were seen as being enhanced by a provincial council model.



Advantages and disadvantages of reforming councils into 12 or 14 regional ones (the degree of advantage being the same or increased represented in green):



The impression from the overall ratings of performance and respondent comments is of a sector that in general performs only satisfactorily.  This is not to say that all councils are seen in that way; a few respondents clearly believe they receive excellent service.  However, comments from respondents are strongly negative and suggest that a belief that local government is inefficient and generally wasteful is deep seated.


A contributing factor is possibly the apparent lack of connection between ratepayers and their councils. Despite the reform of Auckland local government, Aucklanders appear to be remote from their council, with poorer knowledge of what local government does and less understanding of their council’s policies than ratepayers in other areas.


The survey reveals a different set of priorities between ratepayers and non-ratepayers.  For example, more than half of ratepayers feel that their council should reduce or remove some of its activities to reduce council rates.  This is not the case for non-ratepayers; only 30% feel this way.  A higher percentage of non-ratepayers than ratepayers are prepared to consider rates increases to fund extension or enhancement of council services and their priorities are different:  non-ratepayers would want to see increased rates going to fund environmental protection and social services, while ratepayers would want to see investment in infrastructure.


Ratepayers do think there are too many councils in the country, but that sentiment does not extend to support for a full provincial councils concept.  Concerns are around loss of local democracy, local identity and “community” and there is a perception that provincial councils could increase rates and costs.


NZCID CEO Stephen Selwood's comments on the local government reform survey are here.


For further comment from Horizon Research on this survey please contact:


Grant McInman


Horizon Research

Telephone: 021 076 2040