Local Govt. Controversy

PSA says Local council changes spell huge upheavals for staff

The Public Service Association (PSA) says the proposed reform of local government will be hugely disruptive.

And it says they’ll have consequences for local council members that do not appear to have been fully thought through.

The plans, announced yesterday by Local Government Minister Nick Smith, include proposals to speed up council amalgamation and allow councillors to set staffing and salary levels for council workers.

‘Huge changes’ to working practices

“The proposals, if adopted, would represent a huge – and little-debated – change to the way our members work,” says PSA National Secretary Brenda Pilott.

“In particular, we are concerned about the plans to make it easier to councils to merge. Such restructuring is enormously disruptive to staff and services, and hugely costly to the public, as the experience of creating the Auckland Council shows.

“We would want to see strong evidence of the need for council mergers, and proof that the interests of staff would be protected, before any mergers proceed.”

The PSA also warns that moves to restrict the staffing and spending of local councils will only duplicate the damage such policies have done at central government level.

Caps effects on caseloads

“In central government, caps on staffing numbers are increasing caseloads and putting services under strain. Doing the same to local councils is shortsighted and an attack on local democracy. It will also make it harder for councils to provide services that their communities want,” says  Brenda Pilott.

“In addition, there is no basis for claims that we need to rein in local council spending and staffing levels. Council debt remains within prudent limits and is needed to fund long-term infrastructure.

“When it comes to staffing, there are currently fewer local council staff than when National took power in 2008, and fewer than way back in 1989, when the population was much lower.”

Some ‘pegging back’ needed

Ms Pilott also says that, while “the inflated salaries of some local government CEOs and the use of consultants do need pegging back, PSA calculations show that since 2003, local government pay has only kept pace with inflation and pay increases in other sectors – just over 3% a year.”

She adds: “Local council staff should not be the victims of what looks like an ideologically driven decision to cut back the powers of councils that are only trying to serve their communities.”