Councils could petition Berejiklian for shortfall.
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Pic: Facebook. The NSW government has left some councils with hefty bills to pay since their forced amalgamations in May last year. Government News understands that mergers have ended up costing some NSW councils more than the state government merger and transition funding they were given. Rural and regional councils, in particular, are resentful because they received only half of what metropolitan councils were given to cover the process and yet they often receive much less from rates and have lower reserves. Rural and regional councils received $5 million for each merger, while metropolitan councils were handed $10 million for their mergers under the state government’s New Council Implementation Fund (NCIF). But there were caveats. The funding could only be used for certain things, such as getting expert advice and integrating IT systems, but not to pay ongoing staff costs or council administrators, who replace councillors and mayors until the local government elections in September. Councils were also given between $10 to $15 million of Stronger Communities funding to go towards community projects and infrastructure. Despite the funding, some councils are finding there is a reality gap. Hilltops Council, a merger between Boorowa, Harden and Young Councils in the South West Slopes of the state, estimates that it will end up spending $6.5 million on its merger, a shortfall of $1.5 million. Greens MP and Local Government Spokesperson David Shoebridge said residents of the three former council areas would be ‘shaking their heads’ at the figures and wondering where the $1.5 million extra would come from. “Every independent expert said at the start of this process that amalgamations would be more expensive and more disruptive than the government pretended, and now we are seeing this come true,” Mr Shoebridge said. “The incompetence of the Coalition is really staggering, and now they are expecting residents in the local councils they have destroyed to meet the cost of their failure.” Hilltops General Manager Anthony McMahon said he did not understand the logic behind giving rural and regional councils significantly less funding to cover their merger costs than their metro counterparts. “In our case, we’ve been responsible for bringing three councils together that are geographically separated,” Mr McMahon said. “We’re also a water utility and we have additional constraints in relation to having two former councils with populations under 5,000, which means we have to comply with Section 218CA of the Local Government Act. These factors are not a consideration for metro councils.” The council will finalise its transitional costs and then consider whether to lobby the state government for the money. “We’re focused on ensuring Hilltops Council is adequately resourced to complete the merger process, and will be making representations to Minister Upton accordingly,” Mr McMahon said. “We’ve made clear our determination in ensuring the community does not pay for merger-related costs.” But it is not only regional councils who have been left to pick up the tab for the mergers most of them fought hard against. Sydney’s Northern Beaches Council, an amalgam of Manly, Pittwater and Warringah Councils, received $10 million for its upfront merger costs and has only $105,000 left in the kitty. The council’s biggest outlays were $2.5 million for staff redundancies and $2.8 million for system integration. Northern Beaches Council acknowledges it faces further restructuring costs in the draft of its 2017-2018 Operational Plan. “It is recognised that council will incur further restructuring costs such as the cost of integration, aligning positions within the new organisational structure and new salary system which will exceed the funding provided,” says the plan. “Accordingly the Long Term Financial Plan has been prepared on the basis that once the NCIF has been fully utilised, existing budgets will firstly be used to pay for those merger and transition costs not funded through this mechanism prior to the identification of net savings.” Brian Halstead President of Save Our Councils Coalition, a community group against forced council mergers, said a funding shortfall had always been on the cards. “The amount that the government allowed was based on the KPMG report, which under costed amalgamations and because they’re not allowing councils to book the ongoing staff costs and administrators against the funding,” Mr Halstead said. He said some council staff were spending 25 per cent of their time managing the merger process, including harmonising service delivery and staff pay and conditions, and that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian should stump up the extra cash. “If I was a ratepayer, I would be thinking that these amalgamations have been forced on them by state government. It’s only reasonable that the state government bear the costs of amalgamation but I doubt any of the administrators will [ask] because they’re paid public servants.” Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Keith Rhoades said he was not surprised that merger costs had exceeded the funding available. “LGNSW, along with a number of academics and other experts, argued strongly throughout the process that there was a strong potential for additional costs,” Mr Rhoades said. “It was always clear that the cost of individual amalgamations would vary from council to council depending on readiness, systems compatibility, staff skills etc and in fact this is one reason why forced amalgamations can be more difficult than those that are achieved voluntarily, after extensive meaningful consultation.” Roberta Ryan, Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at the University of Technology Sydney, said it was hard to predict the cost of mergers but the state government had given it their best shot at trying to work it out from past experience. She said the cost of mergers would depend partly upon the extent of co-operation between councils before they merged, for example through shared IT systems and services and the level of regulatory harmony in an area. “I understand there has been a shortfall for a number of councils,” Ms Ryan said. “Many regional and rural councils would have found it harder and more expensive because the amount [they were given] was less and some of them may not have been working towards some of these things that some of the metro councils were.” The ability of new councils to absorb any cost blowout was highly variable, she said. “Some councils have good reserves but some of the smaller ones are very strapped financially.” Asked when the true costs and savings from mergers would be known she said: “Not ever - as we don’t have the base line data available - there can be overall benefits and improvements - that may have happened even if the amalgamations didn’t happen.” The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) would not say whether any NSW councils had approached Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton to fund the shortfall or whether the government would act, should this occur. The DPC statement would only say: “The NSW Government has provided an unprecedented level of support to new local councils. “The NSW Government provided new councils with $375 million to implement the mergers and kick start investment in new services and infrastructure for their residents. “New councils in regional areas received $5 million to cover the costs of merging, as well as $10 million for a merger of two councils or $15 million for a merger of three councils, which is to be used for community, services and infrastructure projects.” [post_title] => NSW councils fork out for forced mergers as government funding dries up [post_excerpt] => Councils could petition Berejiklian for shortfall. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => nsw-councils-fork-forced-mergers-government-funding-dries [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-06-16 14:53:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-06-16 04:53:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27402 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26748 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-04-04 10:47:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-04 00:47:01 [post_content] => NSW largest council has rebranded itself with the help of more than 2,000 ratepayers and hit back at perceptions that it is boring. Canterbury-Bankstown Council, which was created in May last year from a merger between Canterbury City and Bankstown City Councils, launched its new logo and slogan: ‘where interesting happens’ yesterday (Monday) and released a video to accompany it. The south-western Sydney council is the state’s largest council area and has around 350,000 residents. The council’s administrator, Richard Colley, said that residents, community and sports groups and business leaders had all chipped in their thoughts on the rebranding and so had visitors, through workshops, interviews, surveys and roundtables. Mr Colley said the council involved the community from the outset so that they could 'own and be proud of' the rebranding, which reportedly cost $375,000. “It’s not every day you get to stop and think about what defines you as a place and community – we know we are multiculturally diverse, and that’s very important, but what really defines us and sets us apart from other areas and the pack,” Mr Colley said. “It’s based on the idea “Where Interesting Happens” and will allow us to promote our fascinating stories, unique experiences and much more.” The council’s survey of ratepayers found they wanted the area to become a destination where people stopped, rather than drove through; they were proud of diversity and wanted to project a more confident image. Mr Colley said residents would see the new brand popping up in the area from this week on signs, council vehicles and PR material and that various related events would follow. “Our new city brand is about sharing what makes us special and uniting the two great cities of Canterbury and Bankstown. It’s much more than just a logo, it’s a whole new destination marketing approach for everyone to join in, including residents, businesses, community groups, cultural institutions, sporting groups and visitors.” But the rebranding was not just about what people who live or work in the area thought. Mr Colley said: “We also wanted to understand what people outside Canterbury-Bankstown think of us, so we can attract them to our many businesses, places and activities, and help grow our local economy.” Focus groups and online surveys of around 500 Sydneysiders from outside the Canterbury Bankstown area found that some of them had negative perceptions that there was not enough to do there. “The research showed some Sydneysiders don’t visit Canterbury-Bankstown because they think there’s not much to do here. Well, that’s about to change! “Interestingly, we also heard, some people living in our City believe other Sydneysiders think Canterbury-Bankstown is unsafe. We found this is not the case at all,” he said. It’s early days but the reaction on social media have been mostly positive so far, apart from one or two digs at the council’s slogan and social media hashtag. One Facebook wag said the hashtag should be #whereoverdevelopmenthappens or #whereinfrastructureisneeded, while another criticised the slogan: “ ‘Where Interesting Happens’ isn't even a grammatically correct sentence! But then neither is ‘Think Different’ and that worked for Apple. Good luck with the new initiative.” CEO of Chess Engineering Steve Facer, who was involved in the consultation, said the process had “captured an honest and real feel of locals and non-residents”. “They were unafraid to face whatever realities may present themselves and then have the courage to address them in an open-faced and positive way,” Mr Facer said. “The new direction seems highly inclusive. It already has, and will continue to generate energy for a ‘can do’ area that may now start to evolve at an ever increasing rate. I loved the bold simplicity of the package.” What do you think of the rebranding? Want the latest public sector news delivered straight to your inbox Click here to sign up the Government News newsletter. [post_title] => Merged Sydney council rebrands itself as the place "where interesting happens” [post_excerpt] => Hits back at critics it’s boring. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26748 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-04-04 13:15:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-04-04 03:15:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26748 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26430 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-03-06 15:15:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-06 04:15:25 [post_content] => Independent candidate for the North Shore, Carolyn Corrigan (centre, blue dress). Pic: Facebook. A staunch anti-council merger campaigner will take on the Liberals at the North Shore by-election on April 8 in an attempt to repeat the shock upset at November’s Orange by-election, when the Nationals lost a safe seat. Carolyn Corrigan, a Mosman councillor and past President of anti-council merger community group Save Our Councils Coalition, will stand as an independent candidate in former NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s seat following the veteran MP’s resignation last month. Ms Skinner quit in an apparent dummy spit over losing her Health portfolio to Brad Hazzard in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s mini Cabinet reshuffle in January. Ms Corrigan has begun an intensive campaign to topple the Liberals and says the reactions she has been getting on the campaign trail have convinced her that her mission is possible and that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian should be worried. “I couldn’t tell you the number of people who say: ‘I’ve voted Liberal all my life. I’m not voting Liberal this time’,” Ms Corrigan says. “There’s a palpable anger in this community because I think they feel they have been taken for granted. “They should be scared,” she adds. Ms Corrigan says she only decided to run after support for her swelled and no other independent candidates had come forward. “It’s going to be such a short, quick campaign and I haven’t even got a Liberal candidate that I know of. “Five [Liberal] candidates are running. It’s all caught up in the party factions at this stage, as I understand.” The Liberal candidates believed to be in the running are: Tim James, Jessica Keen, Anna McPhee, Felicity Wilson and Ted Wziontek. Labor will not be fielding a candidate. Meanwhile, the state government is once again trotting out plans for a tunnel under Mosman to ease the gridlock in a sign that it is nervous about the outcome of the North Shore by-election, despite its reputation as a blue-ribbon Liberal area. Ms Corrigan says council mergers is ‘still a hot button issue’ for voters but points out that it is only one of many, including the potential B-Line bus, which she opposes because she believes the upheaval outweighs the benefits, the Mosman tunnel (she’s a fan) and overcrowded local schools. The North Shore electorate she is battling for covers the local government areas of Mosman, Lane Cove and North Sydney. It has become a tinderbox of late as the NSW government continues to fight court cases in an effort to forcibly merge Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby Councils and Lane Cove, Hunters Hill and Ryde Councils. Although Ms Skinner has held the seat since 1994 the North Shore does have a history of voting independent. Towering political figure, independent Ted Mack held the seat from 1981 to 1988 and Robyn Read held it from 1988 to 1991, after defeating Ms Skinner. Ms Corrigan says Ms Berejiklian herself has acknowledged that politics is changing and this could favour an independent candidate. “There’s tremendous voter apathy and cynicism and I think that [voters will support] a true independent candidate – not a dummy one – who will just look at the issues and when they vote, rather than the way the party tells them to vote," Ms Corrigan says. Ms Corrigan, who works as a nurse in the specialist clinical areas of pulmonary hypertension and heart and lung transplantation at St Vincent's Hospital, is hoping to bring the independents back again to the North Shore. She might just do it. Want the latest public sector news delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up the Government News newsletter. [post_title] => Council merger protestor to contest Skinner’s North Shore seat [post_excerpt] => Could Orange by-election shock repeat itself? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => anti-council-merger-campaigner-contest-skinners-north-shore-seat [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-07 11:13:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-07 00:13:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26430 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26317 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-02-22 15:39:55 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-22 04:39:55 [post_content] => Will the Liberals seize victory in Mike Baird's seat of Manly and Jillian Skinner's North Shore? Pic: Facebook. Council anti-merger campaigners have vowed to inflict pain on the NSW Government in three upcoming by-elections, after North Shore MP and former Health Minister Jillian Skinner finally resigned officially this week. Ms Skinner tendered her resignation to Speaker Shelley Hancock late on Monday, apparently after failing to score her beloved Health portfolio in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s first Cabinet reshuffle at the end of January. The NSW Electoral Commission will now set a date for three by-elections: Ms Skinner’s North Shore seat, Manly and Gosford. Manly was former NSW Premier Mike Baird’s seat and Labor MP Kathy Jackson recently quit her Gosford seat for health reasons. All three seats have been flashpoints for local council forced merger tensions but it is debatable whether Manly and North Shore – both strong Liberal seats – will really slip from the party’s grasp. However, the Orange by-election result in November, when Shooters Farmers and Fishers candidate Philip Donato seized the rock solid Nationals seat, will no doubt still be painfully fresh in NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian’s mind. Tom Sherlock from anti-merger community group Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) said council mergers were likely to have an influence on by-election results. “I’ve seen some reports that say the Liberals will be massacred but I wouldn’t go quite that far. There are some people who will always vote Liberal,” Mr Sherlock said. “My hope is that there will be some really quality debate about what communities want and what the alternatives are [to mergers].” He said SOCC would be making sure candidate forums occurred and the group would be asking the candidates questions at forums. The group is encouraging voters to put the Liberals last in protest over forced amalgamations. Ms Skinner’s North Shore state electorate, which covers Lane Cove, Mosman and North Sydney, is overwhelmingly Liberal territory but council mergers here have been some of the most fiercely contested. The NSW government said this month that it will still push ahead with Sydney mergers, despite halting regional mergers, and this includes one between Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby Councils and another between Lane Cove, Hunters Hill and Ryde Councils, subject to the outcome of court cases. The North Shore seat has a history of independents throughout the eighties and it is possible that a credible independent candidate could take the fight to the Liberals. Mr Sherlock said Ms Skinner said she opposed local council amalgamations but ‘she never spoke out’ and that she ‘basically let the community down in a very big way’. The Liberals could get a nasty surprise come election time, which is likely to be in late March or early April. He said: “The Liberals have taken the North Shore for granted and they might get a big surprise. In that way it’s very similar to Orange. Orange was taken for granted by the Nationals. They brought in a candidate from outside the area and assumed people would vote National.” Meanwhile, Manly could also give the Liberals a fright if there is a backlash against the newly created Northern Beaches Council. Manly voters have a history of voting for independent candidates and focusing on local issues and personalities. Independents took the seat in all four elections between 1991 and 2003. Mr Sherlock said that Pittwater residents in particular were angry over the loss of their council but he said that the majority of the electorate may still back the Liberals. Warringah residents were more sanguine about council mergers because the former Warringah Council had a dominant role in the new council and some residents had wanted Manly Mayor Jean Hay deposed, said Mr Sherlock. Manly residents might be more worried about other issues, such as the Western Harbour Tunnel and Northern Beaches Link. But it is Gosford, one of state’s most marginal seats, where and the forced merger between Gosford City and Wyong Shire Councils could tip the balance against the Liberals. Labor MP Kathy Smith narrowly beat Liberal state MP Chris Holstein in 2015 by only 203 votes. It is here where council mergers could be the difference between success or failure for the Libs. A spokesperson for the NSW Electoral Commission said the Commission was still waiting for the government to issue the writs for the by-elections adding that ‘there is no legislated timeframe for when a by-election has to occur’. [post_title] => NSW council anti-merger campaigners plot revenge after Skinner's official resignation [post_excerpt] => Third by-election triggered. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => nsw-council-anti-merger-campaigners-plot-revenge-skinner-officially-resigns [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-24 11:21:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-24 00:21:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26317 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25064 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 16:45:09 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 05:45:09 [post_content] => Council amalgamations in NSW have created a revolving door of staff as new councils struggle to hold on to their general managers. The game of management musical chairs has gathered pace recently and many of those parachuting belatedly into the top jobs have been from NSW Premier Mike Baird’s Northern Beaches stomping ground. Rik Hart became the latest (interim) General Manager of Sydney’s fledging Inner West Council last week after respected GM Vanessa Chan resigned. Hart spent ten years as one of the state’s highest paid GMs during his tenure at Warringah Council before the council merged with Pittwater and Manly and he was appointed Deputy GM of the new Northern Beaches Council, which turned out to be a brief gig. Chan’s reasons for resigning have been kept on the down-low, although she cited “personal reasons” but bringing three councils together while keeping the new council’s daily operations going and dealing with fierce public hostility to the merger would not have been an easy task. Chan was previously GM at Ashfield Council and had notched up more than 15 years working in local government. The inner-west merger between Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville Councils has already claimed the scalps of Leichhardt GM Peter Head and Marrickville’s Brian Barrett, who both quit rather than take on a deputy GM role. A slew of other senior staff joined them in walking out the door, including Leichhardt’s Director of Corporate Services Matthew Phillips; Marrickville’s Director of Planning and Environment Tim Moore; Director of Infrastructure Services Neil Strickland and Director of Corporate Services Steve Kludass. The freshly minted Northern Beaches Council has haemorrhaged senior staff since the merger between Pittwater, Manly and Warringah was pushed through in May. The mass exit is unsurprising given the council was top heavy at its inception, with an administrator, interim general manager and eight deputies. Henry Wong quit as Deputy GM and ended up as Strathfield Council’s acting GM after spending years in the same role at Manly Council. Other senior managers dropped in from the Northern Beaches and scattered further afield include former Warringah Council Deputy General Manager Malcolm Ryan, who left for Western Sydney to take up a job as GM at Cumberland Council – an amalgam of parts of Auburn, Holroyd and Parramatta local government areas, a contract which runs until March 2018. Deputy GM Melinda Hewitt (previously Pittwater Council’s Deputy GM) left Northern Beaches Council in August after seven years on the peninsula, as did former deputy Stephen Clements. CEO at Local Government Professionals Australian NSW, Annalisa Haskell said some senior managers left before they lost their jobs or had to work in a new set up they did not like under a merged council. “There are people going everywhere,” Haskell said. She said that movement at the top was “inevitable” following council mergers, particularly because merged councils would be creating a “new order”, which may jar with established staff. “The leadership needs to establish a new organisation and that can be challenging if you have got the incumbents there. Change is always difficult. In any organisation there is a positive and negative.” The situation had the potential to create conflict between general managers and their deputies, most of whom had served as GMs before the mergers. Instability at the top has also affected those councils threatened with amalgamation but who have not yet merged. Their respective general managers are well aware that their necks are on the guillotine. Arthur Kyron left his GM post at Waverley Council in April, citing the uncertainty created by mergers as the reason for his resignation. A proposal to merge Waverley, Randwick and Woollahra is still on the table, with Woollahra resisting. One interim GM would be appointed to oversee the transition. Cabonne Council lost General Manager Andrew Hopkins in August after four years in the job after Hopkins said he had to think of his family and career while the merger between Cabonne, Blayney and Orange was still going through the courts. Strathfield Council is on its fifth Acting General Manager (Henry Wong) since its long-serving General Manager David Backhouse walked out the door in February. The council remains locked in a court battle resisting the government’s proposal to merge it with Canada Bay and Burwood Councils. Local government veteran Backhouse quit Strathfield Council after 30 years, ten spent as GM. Two other senior staff quit too: Corporate Affairs Director Neale Redman and Head of Planning David Hazaldene. But their departures may not have been solely precipitated by amalgamations. An October 2015 Office of Local Government investigation found that Strathfield Council spent almost $900,000 on legal services and advice from International Property Group over a four-year period and concluded that it had little to show for it. The investigation identified ‘systemic deficiencies’ and failures in administration and slapped a performance improvement order on the council. Not even the lower north shore has proved a safe haven for general managers. The state government’s proposal to merge Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby Councils is likely to have created a sense of unease among the people who work there. Mosman’s GM Veronica Lee chucked in her job in August and left to become Executive Director of Corporate Service at the NSW Office of Sport. North Sydney GM Warwick Winn jumped ship for Manningham Council in suburban Melbourne in April. President of Local Government NSW Keith Rhoades said he was aware of a great deal of movement at senior level within councils, much of it due to the uncertainty created by mergers. “They’ve got to think about their families and their futures and their careers, if there’s a position come up that might be more secure for them. Job security is something to be treasured these days,” Rhoades said. Haskell agreed: “When you’re in a state of unknown it’s always hard so I guess some people are changing to make active decisions about their careers. I think you would see more movement there just because of the uncertainty.” Some managers have left councils under threat of merging for those that have already gone through the process. Haskell said: “there are opportunities coming up in merged councils for people who may be want surety.” Lee Furness hotfooted it out of the doors as Director of Corporate Policy at Shellharbour Council (slated to merge with Wollongong) this month to become Executive Director at Hilltops Council. Haskell said the massive personnel changes presented both opportunities and dangers. There was a possibility the sector could lose skills and corporate memory but she said this was part of a wider trend with the retirement of baby boomers at senior level. Another fear was that the sector could become fragmented into three: councils where there had been no change, amalgamated councils and those councils which might be merged. “Although there were lots of little councils before it was quite cohesive,” she said. “It feels a little bit more fragmented at the moment. We have people who are not changing that are stable, groups that are waiting and people who have changed. It’s very abnormal at the moment.” Haskell said councils were stronger when they connected and shared best practice. [post_title] => Best of 2016: Musical chairs at the top for NSW local councils since mergers [post_excerpt] => Northern Beaches execs go west. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => musical-chairs-top-nsw-local-councils-since-mergers [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 16:46:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 05:46:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25064 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 5 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24232 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 15:50:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:50:00 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24233" align="alignnone" width="300"] Commitments... he's made a few. pic: Facebook[/caption] The Baird Government has moved to seize direct financial control of councils across New South Wales under sweeping new laws that hand ultimate power over local government spending to specially appointed “controllers”, with oversight duties handed to the State Auditor General. Revealed in the immediate wake of this week’s NSW Budget, the new legislation — the Local Government Amendment (Governance and Planning) 2016 — proposes to impose the tightest controls yet on how elected representatives and council staff spend money and includes the right to shut out general managers from financial probes of expenditure and governance. The new laws could also hand State Government appointed administrators the power to make ‘opt-in’ decisions on behalf of electors and elected representatives on controversial issues like the use of postal voting at merged councils thanks to the delay of polls until September 2017. Rushed into the Legislative Assembly this week, the new controls won’t be debated until the August sitting of State Parliament but have already sent shockwaves across a sector still reeling from the sacking of 37 councils in May. [quote]One of the legislative changes sure to raise hackles is a bid to “remove procedural requirements relating to the community strategic plan, community engagement strategy, resource ng strategy, delivery program and operational plan.”[/quote] Local Government Minister Paul Toole is making no apologies and said the new laws make “important changes to ensure councils are always putting the interests of local communities first.” That includes far greater powers for direct ministerial intervention. “It will enable the Government to appoint a financial controller to councils that have a consistent record of poor financial performance and get those councils back on track,” Mr Toole said. The hotly contested financial state and sustainability of local governments across NSW was the main trigger for forcing council amalgamations across the state, premised on the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s heavily disputed ‘Fit of the Future’ report card. But many councils – amalgamated or otherwise – have attacked the financial assessments made of them in the run-up to mergers as flawed, particularly smaller and more buoyant local governments amalgamated with fiscally challenged neighbours.
Councils hit backLocal Government NSW (LGNSW), the peak representative body for councils in the state, is suspicious of the bid to parachute-in financial controllers as the Minister sees fit, cautioning some of the state government’s financial assessment methods simply lack credibility. “Many of these moves seem designed to establish new avenues for central oversight and control, rather than recognising that local government is an autonomous, elected sphere of government,” said LGNSW President Keith Rhoades. “There needs to be agreed parameters around the Government appointing a financial controller, and objective measures of "poorly performing" or "high financial sustainability risk" need to be established. Lack of specificity could allow the Government to apply the same discredited methods used to declare many NSW councils "not fit for the future," Cllr Rhoades said. City of Sydney Councillor Ed Mandla, a Liberal, also had reservations as the the efficacy of the new laws. "Surely the best oversight for council books is the ballot box," Cllr Mandla told Government News. [quote]"The real problem for for Councillors is if they have a problem with the GM (general manager) they have to tell the mayor and if they have a problem with the mayor they have to tell the GM — what if they are in cahoots?"[/quote]
Questionable TimingThe latest laws are the second major tranche of legislation to hit this week, with another bill dealing with the donations and the pecuniary interests of councillors – the Local Government and Elections Legislation Amendment Integrity Bill – introduced on Budget night. The timing of the new legislation prompted Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley to accuse Mr Toole and Premier Baird of trying to sneak through the new laws and of reneging on a promise to introduce limits on donations, especially from property developers. “Mr Baird has broken a clear and unequivocal commitment to introduce spending and donation caps for council elections,” Mr Foley said. [quote]“Caps on donations are not much use without limits on election spending. Predatory interests will be able to spend as much as they like to capture control of a local council.”[/quote] Shadow Local Government Minister Peter Primrose said while it was still too early to give a definitive assessment of the latest laws, people needed to remember that decisions at amalgamated councils – including ones that could flow from the new laws –were being made by government appointed administrators rather than councillors answerable to electors until September 2017. Mr Primrose also questioned whether the Baird Government was really committed to ensuring integrity in council decisions given Budget cuts meted out to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that had persistently uncovered graft and dodgy decisions. “The Premier who is behind this bill is also responsible for slashing staff at ICAC – one of the most important institutions that that maintains integrity in local government,” Mr Primrose told Parliament on Wednesday. Referencing State Budget papers, Mr Primrose said ICAC’s “corruption prevention presentations will drop from 160 to 100” and that the average time to deal with complaints would rise from 30 days to 42 days. "So much for promoting integrity measures,” Mr Primrose said.
Massive Audit Office WorkloadWhile the new legislation is yet to pass, a clear intention of the new laws is to remove the ability of councillors to appoint their own auditors and hand oversight power to the directly Auditor General. [quote]The changes mean that while the government will get a centralised and consistent view of local government finances, the Audit Office of NSW will need to compile literally hundreds of new council reports a year to perform its new duty.[/quote] A spokesperson for Mr Toole said changes brought NSW “into line with most other Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand and will provide greater consistency and certainty across the sector.” “It will also ensure that reliable financial information is available that can be used to assess councils’ performance and for benchmarking. Mr Toole’s Office also confirmed that the Auditor-General will have powers to “conduct sector-wide performance audits to identify trends and opportunities for improvement across the sector” in line with similar powers in relation to state agencies. The total cost of the audits – which are typically charged back to agencies – is still yet to be determined. A state public service source suggested that putting councils under the watch of the Auditor General was “unquestionably” the right move, but one that may not work in Macquarie Street’s favour if ministers relied on rubbery numbers. Premier Baird in February 2016 announced that Margaret Crawford, who has been Deputy Secretary at the state’s Department of Family and Community Services, would become the new Auditor General of NSW.
Key changes as flagged by the Minister for Local Government
- Appoint the Auditor-General as the auditor of all councils;
- clarify roles and responsibilities of councillors, mayors, administrators and general managers;
- introduce new guiding principles for local government;
- improve governance of councils and professional development for councillors;
- consolidate the ethical conduct obligations of councillors;
- establish the framework for strategic business planning and reporting; and
- streamline council administrative processes.
- Order restraining the first respondent Minister from recommending implementation of the proposal to amalgamate the local government areas of Strathfield, Burwood and Canada Bay dated January 2016 in reliance on the purported report titled "Examination of the Proposal to merge Burwood City Council, City of Canada Bay Council and Strathfield Municipal Council" dated March 2016.
- Minister to pay the applicant's costs.
Hits back at critics it’s boring.
Could Orange by-election shock repeat itself?
Oversight powers sent to Auditor General.
Model behaviour for $480k.
Minister’s one-sentence reply.
Promised savings unlikely to materialise form mergers.
Benchmarking before and after mergers.