Moving beyond roads, rates and rubbish

Australian councils have transformed themselves beyond a narrow focus on ‘roads, rates and rubbish’ and are successfully delivering broader objectives to promote social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of communities.
Those are the findings of a new a study prepared for the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) which argues that councils have to be able to provide a greater range of services while endeavouring to meet higher standards.
The study showed some council services experienced higher demand from the community (such as sporting and cultural facilities), others have been subject to increased legislative requirements (such as asset management and strategic planning).
These challenges have become increasingly difficult to manage due to the financial pressures placed on councils.
Importantly, the study provides hard evidence that counters the frequent populist assetion in tabloid nespapers and talkback radio that councils must strictly stick to providing communities with only the most essential and basic services.
But the good news was tempered by the finding that costs for providing services and maintaining infrastructure have been increasing considerably faster than generated income and in some cases this has been exacerbated by externally imposed constraints and revenue restrictions.
Given these increased pressures, councils have embarked on formal reviews to ensure the services they provide are relevant to their contemporary communities and are financially sustainable in the long term.
Service reviews mean different things to different organisations. In local government, a common objective is to ensure ‘value for money’ for their ratepayers.
According to the report the reviews helped to identify the mix of services and funding arrangements that best met the community’s needs.
Councils that participated in the study were Coffs Harbour City Council, City of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie City Council, Parramatta City Council, Port Stephens Shire Council and Rockdale City Council (all New South Wales).
South Australian councils that participated in the study included the City of Playford, City of Prospect and District Council of Tumby Bay.
Also involved were Mackay Regional Council (Queensland) and the City of Melville (Western Australia).

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