LGSA releases modernising local government report
The Local Government and Shires Association of NSW has released its consultation report on modernising local government, finding that there is considerable enthusiasm for reforms or initiatives that assist councils to continue to improve.
The report finds however that there is no common view about what the key reforms should be or how to pursue them, and that more work is required in what is a long-term and challenging project.
Overall councils support the need for the NSW Constitution to guarantee that councils are elected by local residents (not appointed, except in cases of extreme corruption or dysfunction).
Councils do not see a compelling case to explore other models for the organisational structure of councils, preferring to maintain, refine and improve the model contained in the Local Government Act 1993.
Councils have diverging views on the idea of mutually agreed service and regulatory functions, falling into the following groups:
- those that believe it is important for all service and regulatory functions to be agreed between all three spheres of government;
- those that believe that some service and regulatory functions be carefully defined and agreed, and other service functions be left discretionary;
- those that believe that it is important for regulatory functions alone to be agreed between all three spheres of Government;
- those that believe all service functions be ‘enabled’ as in the present Local Government Act, not made mandatory by mutual agreement.
Councils strongly support a revised role for Local Government in Land Use Planning, focusing on a complete revision of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and a host of issues relating to the local input, LEP processes, Part 3A, Joint Regional Planning Panels and SEPPs.
Overall councils preferred a downsized role under the revised Public Health Act 2010. However, pursuing this was not seen as an urgent or major priority.
Councils strongly supported the development of an alternative system for funding the three emergency services that did not involve Local Government as a contributor; and generally favoured having no future role in funding or providing operational support to the three emergency services. However, there was a minority of councils that favoured maintaining a role in relation to the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Service.
Councils were divided on whether they should go further than they do now and formally act as the conduit for community input on all local services, no matter which sphere of government is delivering the service. Those against saw it as a dangerous move setting councils up for criticism on services over which they had no control. Those favouring it saw it as a natural extension of their role in representing communities to other spheres of government and a natural part of Community Strategic Planning.
Overwhelmingly councils do not believe the communities they serve have appetites for larger councils. However, some noted i) some communities want local boundary changes; some communities might be attracted to being organised on a catchment basis and iii) metropolitan communities may accept much larger councils (or even a single council).
Further, councils do not believe there is contemporary or emerging evidence supporting amalgamations based on economies of scale. The majority cited studies that showed the contrary. The value of resource sharing and other joint strategies was strongly supported as an alternative. Nonetheless, there were suggestions from the last round of amalgamations that new councils now provided facilities and services that were beyond the capacity of the former councils.
The Modernising Local Government Report can be accessed here.