Local Government New Zealand’s annual conference winds up in Palmerston North today, with a record delegation of the nation’s mayors, chairs, council representatives and other stakeholders in attendance for the three-day event.
It’s been Palmerston North’s biggest conference since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and marks a return to form for the city’s events industry, said the city’s Mayor, Grant Smith.
“Conferences like this one provide enormous economic and cultural benefits for our community, contributing many millions a year to the local economy,” he said.
“We’ve seen a surge in conference bookings since restrictions on numbers have been lifted and the LGNZ Conference kicks off a string of many. Our council operated facilities alone are booked to do a year’s quota of conferences over the next five months.”
LGNZ President Stuart Crosby says this year’s conference Te Wā Heke Mai: the Future, saw more than 600 council leaders and representatives come together as the sector faces once-in-a-lifetime reform.
“Conference 2022 is our opportunity to come together and think big at a time where local government is being presented with the biggest changes the sector’s had to grapple with in over three decades,” said Mr Crosby.
“On top of that, local government is confronted with challenges that it must deal with head on such as climate change, the Covid environment, and other long-standing issues including a lack of diversity among elected members and low voter turnout.
“At this year’s local body election, we will see a huge turnover in elected members. So we also need to be thinking about how we attract the best people from a range of communities and backgrounds into our sector and how we support them to learn, grow and thrive.
“These tough conversations are best had face to face. The conference is about taking a pause from day-to-day business to think about the future. It’s a once-in-a-year chance for the sector to come together to share knowledge and learn from each other – this opportunity is worth its weight in gold.”
Speakers at the conference included elected members from both local and central government, strategists, innovators, and iwi.
Conversations have centred around what the future holds for local democracy, opportunities the current state of reform presents, climate change and local government partnerships, says LGNZ CE, Susan Freeman-Greene.
“If we want to create a system that’s sustainable and places our communities at the centre, then these are the things we need to be talking about. Carving out the space and time for discussion is invaluable,” she said.