The Coalition has announced its proposal to
force council amalgamations across NSW
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The Coalition’s forced amalgamations plans face growing community opposition and are far from guaranteed. State-wide opposition to forced amalgamations has already seen Baird’s merger plans scaled back significantly.
- Petition to Keep Democracy Local
- NSW Parliamentary Inquiry final report into Local Government
- Premier and Local Government Minister have no powers to sack local councils, independent legal advice
Every single plan for a forced merger must now go through a drawn out public inquiry with the Boundaries Commission and this will only strengthen the resolve of communities to stand up for their local council.
This is a political struggle that will define NSW politics in 2016 and Mike Baird is already on the back foot.
The Baird Government is proposing 35 forced amalgamations across the state claiming that they will create savings and efficiencies in local government, but has failed to release the key financial modelling report being relied upon.
The savings generated by a merger are almost entirely a consequence of job cuts for administrative staff, managerial staff and elected councillors. Other savings, such as increased efficiencies from increased purchasing power, do not require a merger for councils to pursue such savings in a business-as-usual case. The ‘savings’ figure included in the Government’s proposals also includes a taxpayer funded merger grant.
What local government needs is the government committed to a policy that will ‘Fix Funding First’ - not forced amalgamations.
The financial sustainability of local councils can be greatly improved by fixing the local government sector's s major funding shortfalls, such as billion dollar infrastructure backlogs, as well increasing council's financial autonomy by putting an end to to cost shifting, rate pegging and the freeze on Commonwealth Financial Assistance Grants.
The solution for regional planning isn’t super councils, but a statutory model that supports joint organisations and aims to fix the funding first.
The Joint Organisation model is both viable and advantageous, allowing for effective collaboration, cost savings, and regional planning and advocacy across council boundaries while still keeping the 'local' in local government.
Joint Organisations and increased regional collaboration were supported by the Independent Local Government Review Panel final report for rural, regional and metropolitan councils as a means of achieving strategic capacity.
In their submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal Fit for the Future review, Ryde, Hunters Hill, and Lane Cove Councils proposed to establish a Joint Organisation to undertake the following
- Subregional land use and infrastructure planning
- Subregional community and cultural planning
- Subregional economic development and tourism
- Joint subregional advocacy
- Joint strategic procurement initiatives, and
- Joint subregional service delivery.
In evidence to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Local Government a number of councils highlighted the positive aspects and benefits of the Joint Organisation model:
- "If co-operative models are implemented successfully … forced amalgamations cease to need to be considered, as the supposed benefits of such amalgamations are able to be achieved through effective regionalism" Shellharbour City Council
- Joint Organisations are a practical and sensible solution ... that does not involve unnecessary amalgamation, and in many cases would be a far better solution, at lower cost, than amalgamation." Lake Macquarie City Council
- "A well-established regional organisation undertaking a range of shared services, joint planning and special projects can achieve significant cost savings and service improvements, develop additional strategic capacity, and at the same time retain the benefits of smaller councils – in particular a high level of local political representation and responsiveness to community needs." Eurobodalla Shire Council
The Inquiry's final report recommended:
That the NSW Government make Joint Organisations available to all councils in New South Wales.
That the NSW Government work with local government on a statutory model for Joint Organisations based on the Hunters Hill, Ryde and Lane Cove Council model as a cooperative and consensus model for local council reform in Metropolitan Sydney.