Reforms badly needed across the entire system
THE big question people should be asking candidates in this local election campaign is how councils will continue to fund the delivery of essential services.
Despite the issues at the centre of this Local Government Audit being raised numerous times in recent years, the situation is as bad as ever. It's no surprise that some councils are only meeting their statutory obligations.
Capital projects continue to be approved without the required funding being in place. Some companies enjoy lucrative contracts, without the market being tested for best value. There are failures across the entire system.
But it must be remembered that councils have been struggling to provide public services as they cope with fewer staff and resources.
Many do an excellent job, providing free public libraries, parks, street cleaning and public lighting, roads and town improvements and a range of grants and supports, in addition to planning and environmental works.
That's because of their staff. Despite pay cuts and reductions in overtime and allowances hitting workers hard, they still appear in times of national crisis such as the recent floods and storms.
It should also be noted that many of the capital works undertaken and land purchased was on the back of Government policy, but there are deep-rooted problems, and the financial position of our local authorities isn't going to improve any time soon.
The local government reform package aims to change all this, by reducing the number of councils and streamlining services. Only time will tell.
Some 20 of our 34 local authorities are technically insolvent, and would be out of business if private companies. Deep reform is needed if we are to have any local government system worth speaking of.