Council grants shake-up for Sunshine State

Queensland is set to reform its process for allocating grants to councils with the State Government providing $4.5 million to tackle the long-running issue in its budget this week.

Local government groups and experts have welcomed the Palaszczuk Government’s move to streamline the administration of grants to local government, which will see a new management system adopted.

The Queensland Government’s budget on Tuesday provided $3.2 million over four years to “undertake planning to improve and simplify the administration of grants to local government.”

The budget contained a further $1.3 million to develop a new grants management system to improve and simplify the administration of grants to local government.

The Local Government Association of Queensland welcomed the measure as a “clear investment in the need for grants reform,” which it said was the sector’s top advocacy priority, but added that councils needed more details on the future of the system.

Budget papers state that the new measures will “progress the recommendations from the Review of Grants to Local Government” that was conducted by KPMG and AEC Group in mid-2017 but which has not been publicly released.

Government News sought the report yesterday from the Queensland Government but a spokesperson said it was a “confidential document.”

The LGAQ has previously said the report found the current model of grant funding was “fragmented and costly” and was “failing to deliver the best financial outcome” while undermining councils’ ability to plan, manage assets and achieve financial sustainability.

The peak has lobbied for the consolidation of grants programs into a small number of funding streams aligned to outcomes.

While agreeing it was important to simplify the process, local government expert Roberta Ryan said it was similarly necessary to “make transparent the criteria that is being used for the basis of distribution” of grants.

She said this also meant ensuring distribution criteria adhere to the core principle behind the grants system of ensuring people can access services at the same level regardless of where they live.

“That’s a tough one because Australia is big and very spread out, and Queensland is the most decentralised state, with plenty of areas that are very remote and with sparse populations,” said Professor Ryan, director of the UTS Centre for Local Government.

Engagement with the local government sector around the application of grants criteria was also critical “because it’s only local government that really understands the on-the-ground implications,” she told Government News.

“It’s critical for them in terms of forward planning. The financial assistance grants particularly for non-metropolitan councils can be quite a significant component of their budgets, and many things that the community needs take quite a long time to plan and implement.

“Without budget security, local government is essentially in a position where they’re working with one hand behind their back,” said Professor Ryan.

Independent complaints body

The State Government’s budget also provided $14.1 million over four years to establish an “independent body to consider councillor conduct complaints and improve governance practices.”

The new measure follows the government’s move in February to enable mayors and councillors to seek advice from the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, a recommendation of the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission in its report into local government corruption.

It comes as the state continues to see a number of allegations of local government misconduct. Last month Ipswich Council made a submission to Queensland Minister for Local Government arguing against the full council being stood down, while the State Government suspended four mayors and a councillor after it passed new legislation permitting the automatic suspension of councillors facing serious charges.

Waste, infrastructure measures

Elsewhere in this week’s budget the State Government provided $100 million to support the state’s resource recovery and recycling industry.

However, the LGAQ said that councils would be “disappointed” that more than 30 per cent of the revenue generated by the state’s new waste levy will go back into general revenue.

The budget also provided $147 million for the Works for Queensland program to support regional councils in undertaking maintenance and minor infrastructure, and $38 million to establish a new Disaster Resilience Fund to deliver mitigation and resilience projects.

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