Polling of some 3000 members of the public and businesses scores local government poorly on three core measures of competence to give the sector a reputation score of 29 out of a possible 100, says the sector's national body, Local Government NZ (LGNZ).
Key findings of the Colmar-Brunton research, which was undertaken in mid-2014 for the first time and will be repeated annually, sought views in a range of areas grouped into the categories of performance, local leadership and communication and interaction.
The average score for performance, which covered factors such as value for money, financial management and ability to manage community affairs came in at 28%, while local leadership scores averaged 26%.
"The results aren't that flash," said LGNZ chairman Lawrence Yule, although the results were consistent with similar polling in Britain and Australia.
LGNZ would be introducing "a significant programme over coming months to drive positive change."
Among likely initiatives was to create a nationally agreed accord between the local government sector and central government, akin to existing localised housing accords, to agree "shared priorities and areas of work for the whole country."
Communication and interaction, covering factors such as ease of engagement, willingness to listen, and opportunities for people to have their say, came in at an average 32%.
Business perceptions of local government were more negative than those of the general public, the poll found, with businesses wanting greater efforts to increase local economic opportunities, preferential access to procurement contracts, and better building and resource consent processes.
The general public expressed greatest concern about trusting local government to make good spending decisions, provide good value for rates dollars spent, leadership by councillors and strategies for prosperity and well-being.
The poll found local government was more important with men than women, older people, ratepayers, business owners employing six or more people, and businesses involved in wholesale or retail distribution and transport.
LGNZ also announced its intention to publish a "thought leadership" paper mid-year on regional transport links "to ensure regional development and growth across all of New Zealand."
"Transport infrastructure is a critical component of regional economic success and LGNZ is advocating for transport decision-making that underpins regional growth objectives," Mr Yule said in a statement. The initiative was partly motivated by the recent decision by Air New Zealand to stop serving some smaller regional centres.
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