A View from Local Government - Local government is Community

Monique Davidson has an eye to the future in imagining local government.

When we think about role of local government, it would be easy to get sucked into the confusing and naïve trap of thinking about the traditional roles of local government – the rates, the roads, the water, the red tape, and let’s not forget the rubbish. A provider of infrastructure and services.

However, when I arrived in local government around 10 years ago, what I found was a sector so broad in its mandate and with responsibilities so connected to community influence, impact, and decision making that I soon realised what profound opportunities local government provides to make a real difference to the lives of people. Stewards in place making and community building.

Whether it be finding solutions to complex issues like housing and community safety or ensuring bespoke and fit-for-purpose infrastructure solutions, what I know is that it is the strength of place-based community and civic leadership that supports enduring solutions.

These solutions might be about enabling and supporting a youth voice in decision making, building capability and capacity within our voluntary and community sector, or opening the doors of our libraries and pools, which for some creates the only social connection they may get that day or week. Local government doesn’t just build community, it is community.

Although local government is facing uncertainty, it equally has an opportunity to reimagine the future. These opportunities include:

  • An opportunity to secure a strengthened partnership with central government and local government where we navigate the continuum of public service in determining each other’s strengths and weaknesses to understand where decisions, influence, and service provision are best placed.
  • An opportunity to leverage those returning to the regions to harness their skills and talents to build capability across our public sector at a grassroots level and support place-based community decision making and leadership.
  • An opportunity to think about the future of the communities we serve, then determine the function and form government serves – not the other way around.
  • An opportunity to reflect on the truth that when everyone (whether it be in the public or private sector) shuts the doors on physical service centres and relies on digital offerings, there is someone left holding the fort – and that someone is local government. Because local government is community.

No day in local government is ever the same, and it is often challenging to articulate. If we were stuck in an elevator together, I would talk with such passion about the multiple projects we are working on with iwi and hapū to deliver on the environmental and cultural aspirations they have for the whenua and awa or the 415 employment outcomes we have created in partnership with central government since August 2020, or I might talk about the families who have contacted council this week because they have been given notice on their tenancy and have no home to go to. And then our conversation would continue on the opportunity that is in front of us – the opportunity to let go of our confused and naïve perceptions and pursue a strong and connected public sector that continues in its mission to enable dynamic communities. Yes, together we can be the real stewards in place making and community building.