By Jane Garcia in Toowoomba
The coincidental timing of the Local Government Association of Queensland’s annual conference held in Toowoomba about two weeks before the State election could have left a hole in the program when state politicians were unable to meet their commitment to attend, and those that did were curtailed in what they could discuss.
But instead the discussion was as robust and vital as ever emphasising that Queensland councils are willing, and increasingly able, to do it for themselves – pursuing the tier’s interests, driving engagement and cooperation with the State Government and creating change.
In his presidential address to the conference, Paul Bell said one of the things that had distinguished the current LGAQ executive was its ability to focus on the medium-term and address the issues up ahead for local government.
“Working on the future, I must say that I’d rather work on it than have it working on us,” he said.
“Not flash grand plans but sensible, practical improvements that will benefit councils.”
Reports on the Size, Shape and Sustainability (SSS) agenda showed it had been embraced by the majority of the state’s councils, with 104 councils voluntarily investigating their sustainability and identifying opportunities for improvements or reform.
Although the LGAQ supports a policy of no forced amalgamation and councils themselves will make the final decision about potential changes to the three ‘S’s, the association is asking councils to consider all options for the future, including amalgamations.
The State Government has provided $25 million to the SSS agenda to fund project coordination resources and help participating councils conduct reviews and implement changes. Twenty facilitators are in the process of meeting with 24 review groups of councils across the state.
Another project contributing to Queensland council’s status as “the most independent and well resourced local government in the country”, according to Cr Bell, is LG Infrastructure Services. This joint initiative of the LGAQ and Queensland Treasury Corporation was developed to assist councils deliver infrastructure services and provide a one-stop-shop for resources, including options analysis, project evaluation, applying for subsidies, and renegotiating and restructuring projects that have run into difficulty.
Launched in August last year, it has advised on projects worth more than $1.35 billion, including refurbishing council chambers, wastewater treatment plants and upgrading airports.
There is a further $1 billion worth of projects under evaluation and the corporation will assist councils deliver infrastructure on a regional and even state-wide basis into the future.
Cr Bell announced at the conference that the LGAQ and the Queensland Partnerships Group (LG Shared Services) will form a new company aiming to provide a “new vision for local government” and facilitate using shared services to streamline local government.
“Embracing shared services has the potential to fundamentally reform our tiers of government,” he said in a statement.
“We need a shift in thinking, strategies and attitudes. Councils no longer need to be experts, nor providers of every single local government task.”
The 2007 LGAQ annual conference will be held on the Gold Coast.
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