Far North District Council Report

The Far North District Council has improved its performance but there are several identified areas for improvement. There is willingness at the Council for this to occur. The Far North, which is still suffering in parts from deprivation, needs economic growth and an active Council to support this. There is little room for increased Council income from residents who are often on fixed and low incomes, and Council rates and charges are already high compared to average household incomes. The Council is responsive to its communities and has committed staff whom are open to improvement. With a new Long Term Plan being prepared, it is opportune for the Council to match its resources to its commitment.

Far North District Council

Leading locally

Variable

In examining its direction, the Council could consider developing a more focused and integrated vision that emphasises goals which are affordable and achievable for its district. The Council needs to act on its commitment to separate governance from operations.

This assessment was dominated by acknowledgement from councillors, management, staff and stakeholders that there is inadequate separation of governance and operational responsibilities.

The Mayor’s active commitment to improving the welfare of local communities often results in his acting as an “executive Mayor.” Management, from the outgoing Chief Executive to mid-tier managers, felt that councillors were too involved in operations. This creates inefficiency and confusion of roles. However, the Mayor and councillors are committed to separating governance from operations and increasing operational efficiencies. A new Chief Executive provides the opportunity for the executive management to give increased confidence to councillors that operational matters will be effectively addressed, and for the Council to more clearly define the governance and operational roles.

Investing money well

Competent

The Council has a comprehensive financial strategy, a good understanding of its financial issues, and a competent finance team. Its fundamental problem is whether its rates, expenditure and borrowings are sustainable, given its income, and whether it has sufficiently tested this.

The Council faces challenges in meeting increasing demands from a largely static and narrow income base.

The district is catching up on infrastructure investment and has faced a range of natural disasters. The Council relies heavily on rating income from an often economically-deprived and fixed income population. Managing finances at sustainable and affordable levels is a constant balancing act, and as such the financial strategy for the Long Term Plan is to be reviewed.

Delivering what’s important

Variable

The Council has good capability in most operational areas and understands the challenges it faces. Project delivery, however, is weak. This is partly because of the extent to which decisions are revisited by councillors and partly because of a lack of decisiveness and leadership in prioritising work.

The Far North district presents a range of challenges to infrastructure and services, including weather related events.

The Council’s financial and human resources face considerable strain in meeting the needs and likely future challenge of the district, including climate change. Completing projects and delivering the requisite level of service are major performance concerns for the Council.

Listening and responding

Better than competent

The Council is generally performing well in communications and engagement. It has a new communications strategy and its community is reasonably satisfied with public access to council information. There is a need to strengthen Iwi engagement and work is required to include Māori/Iwi in economic development, especially as Iwi move into the post Treaty settlement phase.

The Council is active in the district and works hard to provide its various and often small communities with consistent and up-to-date information.

While information reach appears effective, the wider issue facing the Council is engaging effectively with some of its key regional and district stakeholders.