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Costs and funding of New Zealand local authorities: the role of democratic discourse

Jonathan Barrett (School of Business, The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Lower Hutt, New Zealand)
Colin Scott (School of Business and Computer Technology, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, New Zealand)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 4 April 2008




The purpose of this article is to investigate how two New Zealand local authorities have engaged with their duty under the Local Government Act 2002 (the Act) to foster community participation in decision making, specifically with regard to costs and funding of local authority activities.


A “middle‐range” methodological approach was used which sought to flesh out a skeleton of theory with empirical data to demonstrate the richness of particular contexts. The basic premise was that Habermasian theory provides both a guide to engagement with local, democratic participation and also idealised goals for local authorities under the Act.


The local authorities investigated have taken significant steps to engage with community participation in local authority costs and funding decisions. However, lack of speech competence in the “language of accounting” precludes many community members from participating in informed dialogue on relevant issues. One authority sought to overcome this barrier by way of public meetings; the other by encouraging representative interest groups.

Research limitations/implications

The research findings are not generalisable but are relevant to other organizations similar to those observed.

Practical implications

Broad community participation in local authority cost and funding decision‐making is hampered by the language of accounting. Accountants could do more to accommodate different constituencies for accounting information.


The article highlights two appropriate and practicable approaches the local authorities observed have adopted to foster democratic participation in local decision making. These efforts, but also the remaining problems, are relevant to a broad range of organisations seeking to include different community interest groups in decision making.



Barrett, J. and Scott, C. (2008), "Costs and funding of New Zealand local authorities: the role of democratic discourse", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 295-304.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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