The genuine alternative to forced amalgamations.
Regional Organisation of Councils (ROCs) already exist. They are the bodies through which local councils already co-operate to share services and deliver economies of scale, contribute to regional planning and deliver regional scale and capacity.
However, to achieve full potential, ROCs need to be “strengthened” through enabling legislation. This will allow them to function more efficiently and deliver better savings for their member councils and their communities.
This could be easily achieved as (unlike forced amalgamation) there is bi-partisan support for this to occur. There is also widespread support among leading experts and academics, the local government sector, and in communities where the option has been put forward – such as Hunters Hill lane Cove and Ryde.
SUPPORT FOR JOINT ORGANISATIONS OF COUNCILS (STRENGTHEN ROC’s) as an ALTERNATIVE TO FORCED AMALGAMATION
1: Independent Local Government Review Panel (ILGRP).
In the original report on local government reform – strengthened ROC models (called Joint Organisations) were seen as a key plank, and real alternative to forced amalgamations to deliver local government reform. For example, the panels preferred recommendation for councils in North Sydney was: Amalgamation OR Joint Organisation for Hunters Hill, Lane Cove, Mosman, North Sydney, Ryde (part), and Willoughby.
2: Prof Graham Sansom – Chair of the ILGRP
In submissions to IPART, and to the bi-partisan General Purpose Standing Committee 6 Upper House Inquiry into Local Government reform, Prof Sansom “blasted” the governments over-zealous focus on pursuing forced council mega-mergers, saying that “the ILGRP’s report had been misrepresented and poorly understood.” That the report had seen regional organisations as a “genuine alternative” to mergers, and that “for any mergers to occur and prove durable, the ILGRP saw a need for a much improved statutory process for identification of options, analysis, consultation and determination.” He argued that “The ILGRP did not argue that amalgamations are a panacea to the problems facing local government. It favoured a mix of some amalgamations – where appropriate and justified – and increased regional cooperation and resource sharing”
3: Prof Brian Dollery – Prof Dollery has undertaken extensive research on the risks, benefits and outcomes of council amalgamations in Australia and around the world. His evidence also supports that structural reform of local government in Australia should focus on the model of joint provision instead of amalgamations. He has been similarly “scathing” of the NSW Governments Fit For The Future (forced amalgamation) process.
4: The Bi-partisan General Purpose Standing Committee 6 Upper House Inquiry into Local Government reform.
The Upper House inquiry, was chaired by Paul Green from the Christian Democratic Party, and included members from Liberal and Labor parties, as well as the Greens, Shooters and Fishers Party and Fred Nile party.
It examined a wide range of key issues (see below) – including the role of co-operative models for local government including Joint Organisations, Strategic Alliances, Regional Organisations of Councils, and other shared service models, such as the common service model.
It took written and online submissions, heard from key experts and stakeholders and held 4 public hearings.
It similarly concluded that a statutory model for Joint Organisations should be pursued as a co-operative model for local government reform in Sydney as an alternative to forced amalgamations.
Two key recommendations arising from this process were:
Recommendation 17: 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.
Full list of findings and recommendations – see here
Areas the committee examined were:
• The NSW Government’s Fit for the Future reform agenda
• IPART’s role in reviewing the future of local government in NSW
• The costs and benefits of amalgamations for local residents and businesses
• The financial sustainability of NSW local government, including measures used to benchmark local government compared with measures used to benchmark State and Federal Government in Australia
• The performance criteria and associated benchmarks used to assess local authorities in New South Wales
• The scale of local councils in New South Wales
• The appropriateness of the deadline for ‘Fit for the Future’ proposals
• The evidence of the impact of forced mergers on council rates drawing from the recent forced amalgamations, especially in Queensland
• Evidence of the impact of forced mergers on local infrastructure investment and maintenance; municipal employment and aggregate redundancy costs
• How forced amalgamation will affect the specific needs of regional and rural councils and communities, especially in terms of its impact on local economies
• The role of co-operative models for local government including Joint Organisations, Strategic Alliances, Regional Organisations of Councils, and other shared service models, such as the common service model.
5: The Communities of Hunters Hill, Ryde and Lane Cove:
In Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde communities there is overwhelming opposition to forced amalgamation within neighbouring councils within each respective the community. However, all three communities have exhibited strong community support for a joint organisation alternative, called the “Joint Regional Alliance” (JRA), between the three neighbouring councils.
(It should be noted that Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde Councils were the only metropolitan councils to examine this option as an alternative to amalgamation and put it to their communities).
The councils made a combined submission to the Fit For The Future Process detailing the evidence and support for the option – here).
Both models allow for “amalgamation” of services and service delivery – In the amalgamation model this process occurs over all services. In the joint organisation model this can be targeted to only those services that will deliver economies of scale and improved efficiency.
Both models provide a means of achieving regional scale and capacity, partnering with State Government on regional planning and regional infrastructure delivery. However, the critical and vital difference between councils working together within a Joint Organisation (strengthened ROC model), and councils forced into a single merged mega-council is that the former preserves local community representation, engagement and input into planning decisions for their local areas and regions – where-as the mega-merged model effectively abolishes it.
Put simply, the ROC model delivers the balance that is required to partner with the State Government (or Sydney City Commission) for truly effective planning that delivers thriving, livable communities, regions and cities. The amalgamation alternative – which dis-empowers and alienates local communities from planning decisions – delivers top down, disconnected planning for local communities – which inevitably ends up with insensitive overdevelopment and rapidly falling levels of community amenity.