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The New Zealand local government sector is characterised by a high level of accountability to stakeholders. The local government sector reforms of the late 1980s and early 1990s were set within a broad framework of public accountability. This accountability relationship acknowledges due to the legislative power of local authorities to rate, levy and tax, it is the responsibility of managers and elected representatives give an account, not just to central government ministers and ratepayers, but to all those who are interested in or affected by the activities of the local authorities, including groups with non-economic relationships with the local authorities.

Local authorities receive the bulk of their funding from ratepayers (identified stakeholders) to whom they are required to deliver outcomes. As such, accountability is based on the proper and efficient use of resources. This includes the requirement to communicate outputs and outcomes to stakeholders. This paper promotes the ‘public interest’ concept of accountability, and recognises that there is considerable scrutiny of, and interest in the activities of local authorities. Local authority accountability obligation is discharged through the provision of information about the conditions, performance and activities undertaken in their annual reports thereby enabling stakeholders to assess the accountability and performance of local authorities.

The voluntary disclosure of intellectual capital in the annual report facilitates the discharge of accountability to stakeholders. By providing information regarding intellectual capital in the annual report, stakeholders are able to scrutinise local authority activity in regards to intellectual capital measurement and management.

An ICD index was applied to the 2004/2005 annual reports of the local government sector to assess the extent and quality of intellectual capital reporting. A total of 82 reports were scored against the disclosure index which incorporated the stakeholder panel’s importance weightings and the quality criteria.

The most frequently reported category of intellectual capital was internal capital with an average score of 69%, followed by external capital with a score of 59% and then human capital with an average score of 29%. The average overall score for the entire report was 52%. The most frequently reported item was ‘management processes’ followed by

‘distribution channels’, ‘joint ventures/business collaborations’ and ‘quality standards’. The least frequently reported items were ‘intellectual property’, followed by ‘licensing agreements’, ‘ratepayer database’, ‘entrepreneurial innovativeness’ and ‘union activity’.

The results revealed several areas of intellectual capital disclosures that did not meet stakeholder ‘best practice’ standards of disclosure. Although ‘intellectual property’ and

‘licensing agreements’ were considered ‘very important’ by the stakeholder panel, disclosure of these items was low. Items considered of ‘intermediate importance’ by the stakeholder panel including ‘ratepayer demographics’, ‘entrepreneurial innovativeness’ and ‘executive compensation plans’ were also disclosed at low levels.

The final scores were used to assess whether there was any differences in scores by local authority type and size. Local authorities were split into two groups depending on whether they were territorial, regional or unitary authorities. As there were only three authorities that were unitary authorities, they were grouped with regional authorities. The analysis revealed that there was a significant difference between the external capital disclosures of territorial authorities compared with regional/unitary authorities. Territorial authorities disclosed on average more information on external capital than territorial/regional authorities.

The analysis split local authorities into two groups based on their size. Rates income for the 2004/2005 financial year was used as a proxy measure for size as this figure is directly comparable across all local authorities. Local authorities with rates income of $50million or

more were classed as ‘large’ authorities, while those with rates value of $50million or less were classed as ‘small’ authorities. It was found that ‘large’ local authorities disclosed significantly more internal capital, external capital, human capital, and overall intellectual capital information than ‘small’ local authorities. These results supported the position of several previous studies on intellectual capital disclosure that indicated size influenced the level of disclosure (Brennan, 2001; Craig & Diga, 1998; Zarzeski, 1996).

The exploratory nature of this research and the use of a disclosure index to measure disclosure levels contribute to certain limitations in this study. Hooks (2000), Hooks, Coy and Davey (2002) and Marston and Shrives (1991) acknowledge subjectivity in, and difficulty of, constructing a disclosure index. In addition the lack of prior literature relating specifically to intellectual capital disclosure by the local government sector made selecting the items to include in the disclosure index challenging. The disclosure items for the index were selected from previous intellectual capital disclosure studies in the corporate sector and validated by a panel of relevant local government stakeholders. The stakeholder panel was also used to determine weightings for each item. This ensured that the index placed greater emphasis on items considered important by local government stakeholders and users of the annual reports.

Despite these limitations this paper offers a valuable contribution to the lack of prior research in this area and provides a useful framework through which intellectual capital disclosures can be made in the annual report of local authorities in New Zealand.

This research has provided an initial insight into the extent and quality of intellectual capital disclosure in the annual reports of the New Zealand local government sector. This area has been relatively unexplored in the literature to date both in terms of subject (intellectual capital reporting by local governments) and situation (in New Zealand or internationally).

The results showed that intellectual capital reporting by local authorities was varied. In addition, the disclosure is not occurring within a consistent framework for the measurement and reporting of intellectual capital. Consultation with a panel of local government stakeholders identified aspects of intellectual capital that were considered important for inclusion in the annual report and were used to determine a ‘best practice’ disclosure model (ICD index). The research highlighted a number of areas that were not being adequately disclosed in the annual reports of local authorities.

This research suggests that by incorporating disclosure of intellectual capital items into the annual reports of the local government sector, the discharge of accountability to stakeholders is enhanced. The intellectual capital disclosure index used in this study can be used by local authorities as framework for future intellectual capital disclosures to ensure they are meeting the information needs of their stakeholders.


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