Shires need work to be sustainable

THE final report of the review into the future of local government released yesterday has confirmed interim findings that councils need to change, they have to become sustainable and they need to work with others to make better use of scarce resources.

The main report, Revitalising Local Government, a document of some 138 pages, was released ahead of calls for public comment, particularly from council communities.

The review panel that produced the reports, which included former Tamworth council general manager Glenn Inglis, said the three panel members were unanimous in finding that “no change” was not an option and far-reaching reform was essential to make local government sustainable.

The state’s 152 councils spend some $10 billion a year and employ about 50,000 people.

Panel head Professor Graham Sansom said, while it respected the government’s policy of no forced amalgamations of councils, it nonetheless believed mergers needed to be considered in some places and had canvassed measures in its report.

“‘No change’ is not an option,” Professor Sansom said.

“Already too many councils face serious financial problems. Farreaching reform is essential to make NSW local government sustainable and fit-for-purpose into the mid-21st century. The current arrangements simply cannot and will not maintain strong and effective local government for the majority of communities and regions across the state.” 

He said the panel had set out a package of measures to give local government a new agenda and a fresh start.

“Tired old debates about amalgamations, rate-pegging and cost-shifting must be resolved,” Professor Sansom said.

“There’s no ‘pot of gold’ in Canberra or Macquarie St to save struggling councils. State and local governments must find much more productive ways of working together to make better use of scarce resources.” 

Tamworth mayor Col Murray last night said he hadn’t had a chance to read the report, but he looked forward to it because he was keen to see local government change the way it does business and become more sustainable and more modern in its methods.

Cr Murray said he had confidence that the Tamworth council would embrace change, not just for change’s sake, but for better service delivery and financial sustainability. 

Nationals MP Adam Marshall said while there were no major surprises in the final report, it would cause a lot of discussion around council tables, and so it should.

The member for Northern Tablelands said local government would not be blindsided by the report.

“Most are constructive recommendations about sensible reform for local government and council viability,” Mr Marshall said.

He said councils in his electorate had been heartened and reassured by Local Government Minister Don Page’s recent visit, where the threat of amalgamations of councils was dampened.

“We want reform, local government has to change to have a better future but they are not going to force amalgamation on us.”

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