New fund piece for sustainability jigsaw?

By Adam Coleman in Canberra

At the National General Assembly of Local Government in Canberra today (November 28), PriceWaterhouseCoopers, authors of a new report on the sustainability of local government, recommended establishing a new local community infrastructure renewal fund to assist councils to be more financially sustainable.

“We found a consistent view around the country that the nation as a whole and the sector itself cannot afford to put off making a serious dent in the billion dollar backlog that is making much of our building assets look either tired or dated and shoddy,” says PWC chairman of Federal Government services, Grahame Morris.

In the report, the PWC recommends the fund could finance a range of community infrastructure, including community centres, aged care facilities, libraries, health clinics and sport and recreation facilities.

“The fund could be distributed based on relative need,” he says.

The size of the fund should be set at about $200 to $250 million, a similar level to that of Roads to Recovery, Mr Morris says.

“There is no doubt that such a fund would help to rectify a range of community infrastructure deficiencies and it would enhance local communities," he says.

The proposed fund would mainly focus on the renewal and replacement of existing assets rather than the development of new facilities.

“The ability to access such a fund should enable some council’s to avoid developing backlogs,” Mr Morris says.

In its research PWC consulted a number of councillors and local government managers to develop a list of the type of projects that could be completed with this type of fund.

Those projects nominated included the renewal and refurbishment of community centres and public halls; renewal of facilities providing a base depot for home and community care activities; upgrading of senior citizens centres; renewal and refurbishment of theatres, galleries and museums; enhancement of main street and public squares; upgrading of recreational facilities including swimming pools and playing fields; improving of park equipment; renewal of foreshore paths; upgrading and major periodic maintenance of airports, aerodromes and airstrips; tourism information centres; libraries and the refurbishment of kitchens and council facilities providing meals-on-wheels.

“The additional funding would assist local government to take full advantage of its ability to flexibly gauge and respond to changing community demands,” he says.

“It would strengthen local communities by ensuring an adequate standard of useable facilities for a range of necessary social and recreational services.”

The work generated from the fund would promote further local economic development and jobs, Mr Morris says, and, if well used, should help provide vibrant and active communities.

“We believe the timing is ideal. There are elections coming up and everyone is looking for beneficial new ideas," he says.

PWC believes the fund is more realistic and practical in the near future than many of the other goals local government has set itself.

Mr Morris suggests the fund would represent “a win for federal parliamentarians that hold the purse strings, a win for local councils wanting work done in their area a win for rate payers and a win for local communities across the country”.

“Local government is important, one third of the councils are probably in trouble and haven’t a hope in hell of coping with normal operational costs let alone dealing with the backlog of delayed infrastructure work,” he says.


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