September 2020

Tēnā koutou,

This month we are pleased to be able to include our Report Enhancing Democratic Well-being: the findings from public feedback on LGNZ’s Discussion Paper “Reinventing Local Democracy”, which is the outcome of feedback received on LGNZ’s localism Discussion Document.  The Report summarises the major themes highlighted by submitters and proposes a number of strategies for strengthening democratic well-being which are informed by feedback received.  The approximately 40 submissions received on the Discussion Document identified challenges and opportunities, which are briefly described below:


  • Do councils have the capacity to undertake more responsibilities?
  • Wil councils be responsive to community needs and preferences?
  • Can central government be trusted not to change the rules?
  • Where will the funding come from?

Submitters also identified what they saw of the opportunities that would be created by the adoption of a localist approach whereby responsibility for public services would reflect the relevant community of interest, whether local, regional or national, depending upon the nature of the service.  


  • Improving the effectiveness of government spending and local outcomes
  • Strengthening the place of Te Tiriti ō Waitangi,
  • Enhancing communities’ ability to shape place
  • Deepening democracy.

The report, Enhancing Democratic Well-being: the findings from public feedback on LGNZ’s Discussion Paper “Reinventing Local Democracy” is accessible here

A short interview on the report, screened on Breakfast, TV1, Monday 21 September with the President of LGNZ, Stuart Crosby, is available here.

This month’s quote

This month’s quote comes from Archon Fung, Harvard Professor of citizenship and self-government, and an article he recently penned for the Boston Review with the title “Covid-19 requires more democracy, not less.  Professor Fund has published many papers on deepening democracy and participatory governance. The article can be accessed here.

"We seldom have leaders as wise, accurate, and just as we wish, but democratic engagement can check their power and compel them to serve us better. Relinquishing the process of democratic deliberation in favour of centralized authority means surrendering citizens’ orientation toward the common good [and to] do their part to make society work well."

(Archon Fung, Harvard Professor of citizenship and self-government, Boston Review 23/4/2020).

Localism in action: The Wigan Deal

Professor Fungs’s statement that centralised authority means “surrendering citizens’ orientation to do their part to make society work well” highlights an important dimension of localism and related approaches; this is the value of people actively contributing to the way in which their community works.  We are already seeing this in New Zealand with the growth in citizen science and initiatives to remove pests involving the direct participation of communities throughout Aotearoa.  There are also some very successful international examples, such as the “Wigan Deal”.

The Wigan Deal involves a new social contract between the City of Wigan and residents, which is mobilising the capacity of communities and local partnerships to improve the city.  Key aspects are:

  • A change in organisational culture so that staff at all levels take ownership of the vision for localism;
  • A comprehensive programme to strengthen communities so as to deliver social outcomes, reduce demand for services through greater resilience and stimulate the local provider market;
  • A community engagement approach that shifts away from the common “parent/child” narrative that often characterises the relationship between councils and their communities;
  • Investing in the community organisation/voluntary sector built local capacity and empowered communities to “get on and do things” without being fettered by having to ask for permission; and
  • A programme of neighbourhood planning was introduced to harness proactive energy from communities and challenging community activity into local projects.

Councils who embrace community expertise and cultivate capacity within communities can reset the power balance between citizens and state. This can unlock major benefits in terms of increased civic participation, community resilience innovation which comes from letting go and enabling community-led ventures and social action to flourish” (Power Partnerships” learning form Wigan, Locality).

In the first instance, the Wigan deal was a response to an acute funding crisis following the decision of the United Kingdom government to impose a policy of austerity in 2010.  This would have seen. The council lose 40 per cent of its budget from central government, phased in over 10 years, including the loss of around a fifth of its workforce.  Today it is lauded for not only because they balanced the books but because of the way in which they recast the relationship between public services and the public themselves.

Ultimately, the Wigan Deal has created the pre-conditions for community governance and the transfer of powers and decision-making to the local level.  More information on the Wigan Deal is available here.

New resource: Making Devolution Deals Work

One of the recommendations of Enhancing Democratic Well-being: the findings from public feedback on LGNZ’s Discussion Paper “Reinvigorating Democracy” is that New Zealand should embrace the concept of City or Regional Deals.  City/Regional Deals describe agreements that transfer responsibility, and funding, for a service area from central government to a specific city or region in order to make use of local knowledge. 

New Zealand has yet to adopt such a policy although they are increasingly popular in other countries.  As a result, we are well place to learn from international experience and a 2016 report from the Institute for Government, a UK based thinktank, might be extremely helpful.  Titled Making Devolution Deals Work the paper reviews recent practice in the UK, identifies lessons learned and makes recommendations to help future deals. 

The paper notes that the three major reasons given as to why governments and cities set up such deals:

  1. Boosting economic growth and productivity. By giving local areas powers over economic enablers such as housing, transport, skills and infrastructure, they will be able to boost economic growth and productivity locally. While the evidence about the effects of devolution and city-region governance on economic performance is limited, the current balance of opinion in many influential groups – think-tanks, local government and many academics – tends to support this analysis.
  2. Joining up and reforming public services. To some, devolution offers the chance to better join together public services at a local level, gaining efficiencies from closer working between services such as employment, health, skills, education, transport and social care. From this perspective, in addition to creating more cost-effective public services, devolution could also lead to a simpler and clearer landscape of local services for citizens.
  3. Increasing innovation and experimentation in public services. A strong argument is that devolved systems offer greater scope for local areas to innovate and experiment. Devolution could both provide a greater number of opportunities to try new ways of working and lead to smaller, more localised, services that are able to fail and adapt with fewer consequences than for large, uniform national systems.

The paper also discusses critical success factors.  Three in particular are Strong leadership within the Government, particular amongst central agencies, such as Treasury.  Strong and clear political leadership from the centre, so as to diminish the likelihood of ministers “defending their own territory”, and the link between the promise of meaningful devolution and governance reform. In the United Kingdom, Deals were accompanied by requirements to ensure that any sub-national structures that might be given devolved responsibilities had the scale and capacity to undertake them appropriately.

The paper is available from here.

New resource: Shaping the Future

Published recently by Inspiring Communities Shaping the Future: enabling community-led change, is an introduction to “community-led” development describing the innovative and creative ways in which communities got together to help each other during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic and the factors that made these initiatives work.  Amongst their observations of what contributed to the success of the initiatives profiled in the paper were:

  • Tino Rangatiratanga
  • Shared Vision
  • Speed
  • Strong leadership
  • Local systems (whole of place)
  • Diversity
  • Holistic support and sharing information
  • Strong relationships, and

Inspiring Communities has been promoting community-led development since 2008.  It is currently engaging with a network of 4000 people, groups and organisations and its vision “is for all communities to flourish, with a focus on enabling effective community-led change. The full report can be accessed from here.