What is the caretaker period?
It is the period starting before the quadrennial local government elections and extending until the elections are finalised. During this time Councils are unable to make “major policy decisions” unless Ministerial approval is obtained.
Commencement and duration
The caretaker period is likely to start on Saturday 22 February. It will not end until the conclusion of the election. The conclusion of the election is the date on which the electoral commission declares the result of the poll. This may be up to two weeks after the 28 March polling day.
The practical effect is that the caretaker period will last for approximately seven weeks from 22 February.
What are “major policy decisions”?
These are listed in Schedule 4 of the Local Government Act 2009 and they fall into six categories: –
- Appointment, remuneration and termination of Chief Executive Officers.
- Entry into Contracts with a total value of the greater of $200,000.00 or 1% of the Council’s audited financial statement revenue in the last adopted annual report.
- Preparation of arrangements, lists, registers etc. to establish exceptions to the need to obtain quotes or tenders.
- Making or appeal of Local Laws.
- Making, amending or appealing local planning instruments under the Planning Act 2016.
- Variation requests under the Planning Act 2016.
If your Council has an urgent need to make a major policy decision during the caretaker period, then Ministerial approval first needs to be obtained. Approvals cannot be given retrospectively and are likely to be subject to conditions.
Contracts based on major policy decisions made during the caretaker period are void. In addition, a tenderer or other person who acts in good faith but suffers loss or damage due to the invalidity the Contract has a right to be compensated by the Council responsible for the loss or damage.
Tips for Council Officers
- Be aware of the caretaker period implications.
- Avoid ‘borderline’ purchasing decisions or contrived solutions such as splitting to stay under the threshold.
- Suspend local law-making and repeal activities.
- Ensure Council planning staff are aware of the prohibited categories of major policy decisions in the planning area.
- Be aware that these caretaker period provisions also extend to Council controlled entities. Examples include economic development, sporting facility and art gallery entities.
- Continue to work on reports and recommendations, especially those that are likely to need to be dealt with quickly by the incoming Council.
- Continue to assist with the provision of information to Councillors and the conduct of workshops. Councillors continue to be entitled to be informed and to consider issues. The only prohibition is against major policy decisions.
- Ensure your Council and its controlled entities do not publish or distribute “election material”. This can take many forms but Councils should not publish anything that raises the profile of individual Councillors or highlights their achievements.