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Councils need to cooperate to achieve sustainability


Steve Spinks
29 June 2012
The NSW Minister for Local Government Don Page has launched a book aimed at helping councils explore and assess the potential of resource sharing arrangements to help relieve financial stress at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus today (June, 29).

Councils in Cooperation is co-authored by Southern Cross Business School senior lecturer Dr Michael Kortt and the University of New England’s Professor Brian Dollery and Dr Bligh Grant. The book is published by Federation Press and was released earlier this month.

“The release of the book is timely considering I have just announced an expert panel that will look into the way councils are funded and structured with the idea of making them more sustainable,” Mr Page said.

“The Independent Panel on Local Government is an important step in ensuring our local government sector is strong, prosperous and sustainable. The Independent Panel provides a once in a generation opportunity to make sure we have councils that can support the changing needs of communities.

“It is a great privilege to launch this book in Lismore and I congratulate Dr Kortt, Professor Dollery and Dr Grant on their informative publication.”

Dr Kortt believes local government must look at innovative ways to survive.

“Local government has found itself operating under conditions of acute financial austerity and many have a massive infrastructure backlog,” he said.

“There have been some policy measures to address this, such as forced council amalgamations, but that has often failed to achieve its intended aim and sometimes only serves to diminish local voice and local choice.

“An alternative method to reaping the potential benefits of scale in local government services provision is to share services. The book explores and assesses the potential of resource sharing, shared services and other forms of inter-council cooperation.”

Councils in Cooperation advances a new conceptual framework for explaining the comparative performance of shared service programs in practice. The authors consider alternative models of shared service provision and investigate the relative merits of these models. The book then explores successful and failed attempts of shared services in Australia.

“There is a real case for local governments to pursue shared services in selected areas of service provision so as to reap the benefits which can flow from larger scale and greater specialisation, rather than rely on the heavy-handed and blunt instrument of forced amalgamation,” Dr Kortt said.

“Greater cooperation between councils may well foster a ‘bottom-up’ revival of regional development with greater prospects of success than the current pattern of ‘top-down’ regionalism simply imposed on regional communities by national and state governments.”

Photo: Dr Michael Kortt.