Amalgamations reflect changing society, says expert

Gerry Stoker
Univesity of Southampton professor of politics and governance, Gerry Stoker.

By Rob O’Brien

Amalgamations reflect the changes in society which local governments have to adapt to, a UK expert in governance has said.

In an interview with GovernmentNews Gerry Stoker, a professor of politics and governance at the University of Southampton in England said that the recent Unitary Authorities – the UK equivalent of amalgamations – had been beneficial for local government, forcing it to adapt to a rapidly changing society.

"Our societies have become far more mobile and far more capable of communicating across longer distances than the past and I think it would be a strange local government system that didn’t respond to that in some way," he said. 

"I think reorganisation in itself hardly ever delivers immediate benefits, but a reorganisation can be a trigger to encourage an organisation to find a new way of working and operating."

In the largest shakeup in UK local government for 30 years, 44 regional councils were  replaced with nine "supersized" authorities earlier this month.

The changes were expected to save councils £100 million to invest in services, according to UK ministers.

In Australia, the Local Government of Tasmania (LGAT) dismissed a recommendation by the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) chairman Andrew Scobie recently to amalgamate some of its councils.

“Long-term financial planning and improved asset management will provide greater certainty to councils and their ratepayers,” LGAT president Mike Gaffney said.

“Councils are already working closely together to effect efficiencies in the operations through the sharing of resources, systems and processes."

Two Tasmanian councils have offered to voluntary amalgamate, with a further two offering to share a general manager, he said.

Professor Stoker, who will be addressing the Future of Local Government Summit in Melbourne next month, said on occasions amalgamations were costly exercises, but added that local government needed to change aspects of its management to suit the times. 

"The reality is if you didn’t amalgamate you’d have to find new ways of cooperating at different levels," he said. 

"In some ways it has encouraged local government to deliver new styles of politics and management, in other instances it costs a lot of money and doesn’t deliver many benefits."

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