Councils say they have been left in the cold as the federal government announces a raft of coronavirus stimulus and support measures designed to keep the economy afloat.
The national local government peak ALGA says up to 45,000 jobs could be lost as a result.
President David O’Loughlin says councils have been hit hard by rate relief, facility closures and loss of parking revenue, as well as a lack of assistance from the federal government’s recently announced JobKeeper and Child Care packages.
“If councils are not included under the schemes, the entitlements available to local government employees who work in facilities that have been forced to close will be less than those who work in comparable workplaces in the private and not for profit sector,” he said.
“Our estimates indicate up to 45,000 workers will be lost.”
Government News has learned that one Sydney Council has already identified $5 million worth cuts by the end of the financial year and has asked staff to reduce weekly working hours to remain financially viable.
In an update to staff last Friday obtained by Government News, Hornsby Shire’s General Manager Steven Head warns the impact of the cuts “will be directly felt by the community in the way of deferred or cancelled projects or initiatives that we will no longer deliver”.
Mr Head says that projects proposed for the following year will have to be significantly cut or refocused, and staff where services are closing or being restricted will be affected.
“Our branch managers and directors are currently discussing with every team and individual an approach that will help reduce our direct staff costs, protect our overall finances and hence improve our ability to keep our permanent staff employed during and after the pandemic has subsided,” the email says.
Further comment has been sought.
Concern about childcare
Local Government NSW says many essential services, including childcare, are under threat in the state because councils aren’t eligible for the JobKeeper allowance, which provides employers with $1,500 a fortnight per employee.
LGNSW president Linda Scott says council-run childcare centres could be forced to close as a result of their exclusion from JobKeeper payments and a flaw in the government’s $1.6 billion free childcare package announced on Thursday.
Cr Scott says the child care initiative, designed to be complemented by the JobKeeper payment, leaves councils out of pocket because it will replace the Child Care Subsidy, which makes up to 50 per cent of their childcare revenue.
She says one Sydney council has estimated it will lose $3 million over the next three months under the new arrangement and will struggle to keep its doors open.
“The Prime Minister must reverse a decision to deny JobKeeper payments to councils,” she told Government News.
“Without it, we are looking at the closure of council-run childcare centres across NSW, where local government is not only the largest provider of childcare and early education services but in some regional areas the only provider.
“It is absolutely critical that councils have access to the JobKeeper assistance package, not just to help them keep their childcare centres open but to keep council staff employed right across NSW.”
Commonwealth ‘to provide more inf0rmation’
The United Services Union also says local government has been left out of many of the government’s stimulus measures.
“There is no point announcing a $1.6 billion childcare package that promises essential workers that childcare services will be free if a major flaw in the funding model means centres in communities across the country will still be forced to close their doors,” General Secretary Graeme Kelly said.
NSW local government minister Shelley Hancock said she was “acutely aware” of the impact of the childcare decision on local councils.
“I have heard from many of you already about the difficulty you are having keeping staff employed as well as providing services, such as childcare,” she said in an email to councils.
“The Commonwealth has advised me that they have heard our concerns about childcare services in particular and will provide more information soon.”
Concerns raised by Queensland councils
Queensland councils also say they are working with Premier Annastacia Palaszcuk to protect their 40,000 workers who have missed out on the JobKeeper program.
LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam says COVID-19 could cost the state’s councils, which are already introducing measures like rate relief and fee waivers, hundreds of millions of dollars.
Among council staff affected are around 1,700 librarians who are seeking redeployment or support, he says.
“Without access to JobKeeper funding, the task of supporting communities while also sustaining jobs becomes much more difficult,” he said.
“Councils need their support to not only sustain jobs but to ensure further jobs can be created when the time comes to inject further stimulus into local economies to help Queensland recover from the pandemic.”
Cr O’Loughlin says he has written to the PM asking for action.
“ALGA is pursuing this matter with urgency,” he said.
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