It has been about 18 months since I was first elected to the Invercargill City Council and it has been a great journey so far. It is cliché to say that I have learnt a lot – about how council works (and doesn’t), about the people involved in Local Government and of course about myself – but it is true.
I think it is timely at this half way point to reflect on why I stood for council. In the broad sense that was to make a difference – to make Invercargill a better place and to help empower the community. I hope to write a bit more about this in future blog posts.
In the meantime I would like to comment on what the purpose of Local Government is. This is governed by an act of parliament – namely the Local Government Act 2002 (and subsequent amendments). According to that Act the purpose of local government is to:
– enable democratic local decision making and action by, and on behalf of, communities.
– meet the current and future needs of communities for good quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost effective for households and businesses.
There is also helpfully a bit of an explanation of what is meant by good quality – efficient, effective and appropriate to present and anticipated future circumstances.
In looking at this purpose several things stand out for me (I am not going to comment all the implications of the purpose – just some bits that I find particularly interesting).
So in the first point I am interested in the fact that the decision making – and action – is primarily done by the community – the ‘and on behalf of’ part comes second. To me this implies that communities – that is everyday people – should be the point of call for council and we should also be supporting them to act in their own communities.
In the second point I am interested to see that consideration must be given to current and future needs of communities. This poses an interesting number of questions for me. I mean no one can really predict the future so how do we know what those needs might be? And using the past as a measure for future trends might be an unreliable measure. So where does this future vision come from?
I really like the concept of backcasting. This is basically deciding what you want the future to be like – setting it like an aspirational goal – and then figuring out what steps need to be taken to get there. It’s also a way to measure your decisions against the end goal – do these actions get you closer to achieving the goal?
So after 18 months in council my reason for being there is still the same as it was when I stood but I have a better idea of how that might actually be possible now. I would like to see the council work with the community to create that aspirational future goal for this city. I think this would make a difference both now and into the future, it would set the tone for decision making, it would empower the community – it would cause action.