Age proofing councils

By Lilia Guan
The New South Wales Government has developed an online toolkit  to help local governments become innovative with their planning strategies and creative with their use of resources to prepare for an ageing community.
NSW Local Government Minister Don Page and Minister for Ageing Andrew Constance launched the online toolkit, which will outline the challenges that creates for their finances, resources, community services and asset management planning.
The Planning for an Ageing Population toolkit uses data from a report forecasting the impacts that ageing populations might have on councils.
It offers ways councils can evolve to continue providing suitable services for their changing communities.
“Planning for an Ageing Population will guide councils on how they can prepare for, provide for, and best utilise the residents of an ageing population,” Mr Page said.
“Using information from recently-released Local Government and Ageing Report, the Ageing Population toolkit should ensure councils are not only ready to meet any financial challenges that may come as a result of things like lower rates, but are able to turn the age shift into a positive by altering their future community projects.”
The key points of the Local Government and Ageing Report were; It’s time to raise awareness of the fact that councils’ ratepayers are ageing; asset management plans must consider that an ageing population will have different needs – perhaps more community halls, perhaps fewer football fields or playgrounds; ageing populations have significant benefits to volunteer and community programs – many retired professionals offer their skills to their communities post-retirement; the expectations seniors have of community services in 2011 has changed – bingo is less popular.
The report also found; while more active and mentally stimulating pastimes are sought after; seniors consider basic things like fishing and library services as cherished assets; councils must consider future community transport options during the day; it is possible to review community programs, cutting some and adding others to meet community expectations with an almost cost-neutral outcome; and basic examples such as; older populations are less likely to have their nature strips mowed which means a greater demand for councils’ gardening services.
The report was developed using information from surveys and focus groups from a selection of NSW local governments representing regional and coastal towns, metropolitan centres, and rural areas, with differing populations and demographics.
“The population of NSW is ageing rapidly. It is expected that by 2030, the proportion of people aged over 65 will have increased from 14 per cent to 22 per cent, while the number of centenarians will increase eight-fold,” Mr Constance said.
“It is projected that in the next decade NSW will have more people aged over 65 than people aged 15 or less. We must ensure there is appropriate housing and services for older citizens for long periods – people’s retirements often last 20 or 30 years.”
Mr Page said local governments were positioned to deal with the impacts of changing populations because they can ensure that the physical, social and economic environment of their communities are responsive to demographic change, and can provide services and programs that are flexible and appropriate.
“Population trends prove councils will have to understand what an ageing population will mean for them – by ignoring it, communities could be ill-equipped to cope.
“Councils will have to borrow ideas from each other, and councils which successfully confront the challenges of an ageing population in the short-term can have their methods analysed by councils which expect to meet those challenges long-term.”
The Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW (LGSA) have welcomed the NSW Government's launch of the Local Government and Ageing Research Report, the Local Government and Ageing Toolkit and the Planning for an Ageing Population website.
President of the Shires Association, Cr Ray Donald said the Local Government and Ageing Toolkit helps councils to identify their strengths and weaknesses in responding to the financial implications of an ageing population. The Toolkit will support councils to plan for the future," said Cr Donald.
"The Financial Planning Checklist lists a range of council activities that will be impacted upon by population ageing and suggests processes for councils to employ when assessing costs," he said.
"The Toolkit also provides cost estimates based on data generated by the Local Government and Ageing Study."
Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM, President of the Local Government Association, believes the Toolkit is an extremely helpful resource that will enable councils to become more responsive to the needs of their communities' ever changing population.
"Older members of the community also provide a valuable contribution through volunteering activities, social support and community transport services amongst others. Participation and engagement are vital to the independence and confidence of older people in contributing to their
community life," he said.
"Councils endeavour to support their older generations through providing a range of infrastructure and services to meet their changing needs so that they can stay living in the community they know for as long as possible."

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