Regional collaboration is the go.
The State government created an Independent Local Government Review Panel to propose ways forward to ensure the viability and effective governance of local councils. Last week they released their report that will largely go unchanged to the State for consideration. For Byron, there were no real surprises. In short, it recommends that this region keep the same councils, but ‘beef up’ our regional body NOROC, to incorporate more strategic and collaborative functions. Most of the findings within the report were quite reasonable and provides Byron Council with the opportunity to maintain its independence and integrity as representatives of our residents, whilst soberly accepting the financial responsibilities inherent with this independence and a renewed focus on regional collaboration. One disappointing aspect has been the acceptance that whilst, “The Panel’s view is that the system of rate-pegging in NSW has impacted adversely on sound financial management”, and that, ”The Panel’s preference is for the system to be abandoned”, nonetheless, it only proposed to remove rate pegging for those wishing to amalgamate. If it is appropriate to get rid of rate pegging, it should be so for all, not as a form of bribery to amalgamate.
Pleasing points raised within the report are :
- Over recent years the NSW Government has substantially reduced the scope for councils to levy financial contributions on developments in order to fund new and improved infrastructure and community facilities.
- Another useful step would be to secure changes to the natural disasters recovery arrangements to give councils greater flexibility in determining how available funds can be spent in restoring damaged infrastructure on a network basis – not simply replacing individual structures at the same standard.
- The Panel has concluded that enhancing the role of mayors could make a major contribution to focusing councils on strategic issues, improving governance and strengthening inter-government relations and partnerships with key stakeholders.
- Stronger regional governance must be a central plank of local government reform. However, the legislation makes it clear that County Councils are NOT an additional tier of government: rather, their role is to work alongside their member councils as a joint entity to undertake selected functions.