Has the Wellington City Council acted beyond its powers?

A reader emails with a conundrum:

Hi there Cam

As your readers will be aware, the Wellington City Council (WCC) recently voted to implement a living wage payment to all Council employees. As the governing body of the council, it has the ability to set policy – but it must do so within the constraints of the Local Government Act 2002 (and its subsequent amendments). My experience is that Local Government politicians generally do not read the Act and have little understanding that it limits their powers to prevent them from taking actions that will be detrimental to the city or district they represent. If you asked your typical Councillor what the principles of local government are (as defined in the Act) expect a blank stare, or talk about the four well-beings (which were deleted from the Act a few years ago).

Instead, too many representatives will just read the reports they are provided by officers, listen to any public submissions, ask a few questions at the meeting, and then vote according to their own pre-conceived bias. Unlike most Councillors, I have read the Local Government Act 2002 and it contains the following clauses relating to the Principles of Local Government:    

14           Principles relating to local authorities

1              In performing its role, a local authority must act in accordance with the following principles:

 (f)           a local authority should undertake any commercial transactions in accordance with sound business practices;

Which would appear to prohibit extending Living Wage to contractors performing council services, like parking enforcement, cleaners and contractors, as I’m not aware of any meaningful contracts awarded in the private sector that include payment of a living wage. Even one of the councillors – Mark Peck – has said he does not pay a living wage to those who work for him in his commercial operation (a café in Dukes Arcade off Willis Street). And the very next paragraph in the clause states:

(g) a local authority should ensure prudent stewardship and the efficient and effective use of its resources in the interests of its district or region;

This one is also drawing a long bow, but ‘prudent stewardship’ would seem to mean that paying well above market rates for some positions would not be prudent, nor an “efficient and effective use of its resources”.

Even the paper presented to the Councillors warns “Adopting a living wage could leave the Council open to legal challenge on the basis of the core purpose of local government.”

Given that I would be interested to see if any group (and I’m thinking of the Taxpayers Union) would be interested in taking such action – although it is likely to be protracted and expensive for both parties as there will be appeals in addition to the original hearings.

Do you want:

  • Ad-free access?
  • Access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • Access to daily sudoku?
  • Access to Incite Politics magazine articles?
  • Access to podcasts?
  • Access to political polls?

Our subscribers’ financial support is the reason why we have been able to offer our latest service; Audio blogs. 

Click Here  to support us and watch the number of services grow.

As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.