This summer, Government News will be speaking to CEOs of local councils on their lessons and highlights of 2021 and their upcoming plans and projects for 2022.
This week’s conversation is with the CEO of City of Greater Bendigo CEO Craig Niemann, who took up his role in 2005.
He has more than 25 years’ experience working in the local government sector. Before taking up his current role, he was the CEO of Shire of Loddon and served on the board of North Central Regional Goldfields Library for 10 years.
What are your lessons and highlights from 2021?
After living through nearly two years of a global pandemic, I think we’ve all come to realise we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.
I am very proud of how our organisation has continued to serve the community while finding ourselves in another year in and out of lockdowns.
There has been no way of knowing just what turn the pandemic would take next, but I think we now have the ability to be more flexible and adaptable in the future and make better use of technology to include more people in our community, and I hope that’s a skill we hold onto.
“After living through nearly two years of a global pandemic, I think we’ve all come to realise we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.”
I am grateful that local government was considered an essential service and was able to continue providing support to the community.
In a time of considerable change, there was some comfort in seeing ‘usual’ things happen, like having the bins collected, seeing streets cleaned, hearing from our Maternal and Child Health nurses, receiving visits from our Home Support staff and seeing community projects delivered.
Our investment in road projects, sport and community facilities has continued; we turned the sod and started construction on the Bendigo GovHub project, which has been given the indigenous name of Galkangu (meaning ‘we make things happen together and are more connected to Country’).
Significant strategic planning work was completed with the help of our community, which delivered a new Council Plan, Health and Wellbeing Plan, Climate Change and Environment Strategy, and 10-year Financial Plan and we provided more than $700,000 in business grants to support economic recovery.
In many ways it has been like any other year. We may have done things slightly differently at times but the work didn’t stop.
“I think what our community will be most proud of in 2021 is the outstanding vaccination rates that have been achieved.”
I think what our community will be most proud of in 2021 is the outstanding vaccination rates that have been achieved. We now have more than 95 per cent of our region fully vaccinated, which helps to give residents confidence as they move around.
That has been our biggest reward of the pandemic and a great reflection of our community spirit, as we’ve had consistently high vaccination figures throughout the rollout – whenever the next age group became eligible, people just turned up and rolled up their sleeves.
What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
I’m really hopeful we can see a return to staging major events. In March, Bendigo Art Gallery will host its latest international blockbuster exhibition, Elvis: Direct from Graceland, which will be a great tourism driver.
The 150th Bendigo Easter Fair celebrations have been postponed for the last two years, so we would really like to see this event return and to be able to host our famous gala parade.
Hosting events is the key to us attracting people to our region and we are working on a big calendar featuring sport, food and cultural events that will provide significant support for our accommodation, hospitality and tourism providers.
Importantly, as we continue to get used to living with COVID, I am hoping we will be able to better plan with confidence. I know our Councillors are also hoping to safely see more of our community face-to-face, when possible, providing more opportunities to engage in Council business and decision making.
“Hosting events is the key to us attracting people to our region and we are working on a big calendar.”
What are your big projects and plans for 2022?
The new year brings elections at the state and federal level, so they represent two great opportunities to advocate for Greater Bendigo.
Key projects include the Bendigo Art Gallery and Bendigo Airport expansions, as well as a delivering a circular economy solution for local waste and securing funding for the Healthy Heart of Victoria initiative, which delivers projects to enhance community wellbeing.
We will also keep working with the Victorian Government to plan for the development of the Bendigo Regional Employment Precinct to make more industrial land available in Greater Bendigo.
Construction of Bendigo GovHub will continue and reach practical completion, ready for staff to move in in 2023, and new Law Courts will be completed next year. Together with the revitalised Bendigo TAFE campus that recently opened, these three projects represent an investment of more than $300M by the Victorian Government.
In a sign of strong private sector confidence, building will also start on a new 4.5-star hotel to be located in our city centre and is expected to be a great catalyst to attract more people, more often, to do business, eat, drink, stay and shop in central Bendigo.
What do you think will be your biggest challenges for 2022?
The tail of the pandemic is seemingly quite long and, when we look around the world, we are seeing countries having to continually adjust.
Our vaccination rates are strong and boosters are now here. Leading local organisations will need to continue to work together to ensure we reach as many in our community as possible to maintain their vaccinations.
“We’ve all changed in some way over this time, in particular, it’s made us think about what is important.”
We are speaking with our community now about what they would like to see in the 2022/2023 Budget.
As we have flagged in our 10-year Financial Plan, at some point we will need to have discussions with our community about how much we continue to do. This may not be something we do immediately but it’s a reality we will need to face in the coming years.
How will the pandemic change the way you’re going to do things in 2022?
We are more flexible and adaptable than ever before and more technologically savvy. While you can never replace the value in seeing people face-to-face, technology is a great way to reach more people and be more inclusive.
We’ve all changed in some way over this time, in particular, it’s made us think about what is important and workplaces will need to be more accepting of how staff want to work and structure their work time in the future.
I expect staff will want to keep some of the flexibility they had when working from home, so we have a Flexibility at Work policy to support staff to maintain this work-life balance.
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