Strength in numbers: councils collaborate on key issues

While the NSW Government legislates for local government to work together in formalised groups, a diverse band of councils has already initiated their own alliances, writes Annalisa Haskell.

What a difference a punishing audit or two can make in galvanising a sector.

The need to improve local government performance, and find the means to do so, reached a new intensity in recent months, perhaps most acutely in NSW where the NSW Audit Office report has been tabled in parliament after much discussion.

Annalisa Haskell

In addition, as the NSW Government has embedded joint organisations into legislation there is an expectation that councils can and will work much closer together in formalised groups, on behalf of their regions.

While the sector digests these latest developments, a diverse band of Australian and New Zealand councils has taken pre-emptive action to initiate their own alignments as strategic groups.

The collaborations – in addition to their existing individual approaches to performance improvement – have the potential to bring significant operational change for the benefit of the whole sector.

New era of collaboration

More than 70 councils have embraced a new data window within the Australasian LG Performance Excellence Program as a means to collaborate on local government management and financial accountability.

While the performance measurement program has been delivering comparative data and strategic insights over the past five years, the newly introduced grouping feature creates an opportunity for councils to form clusters and work on strategies that strengthen financial, operational and management capability.

This methodology could provide a creative model for a new era of cross-city, cross regional collaboration. It will also be helpful for councils to see how they perform together as they address additional cost pressures such as rate capping.

Strategic creativity

Western Australia is leading cross-city metropolitan planning with eight major metropolitan councils now in their working window, made up of City of Cockburn, City of Canning, City of Joondalup, City of Swan, City of Melville, City of Gosnells, City of Rockingham and City of Wanneroo.

There are another 13 strategic clusters operating across NSW and New Zealand, with nine of those formed in just the last month.

Among them are some standout examples.

Almost all of the recently amalgamated or merged NSW councils have formed a unique cluster, made up of: Armidale Regional Council, Cumberland Council, Hilltops Council, Mid-Coast Council, Murrumbidgee Council, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council, Snowy Valleys Council, Georges River Council and Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

It’s unlikely that recently amalgamated councils anywhere else in the world have had access to comparative data in one profile for the purpose of learning and performance improvement.

Similarly, a new NSW regional cities collaboration consists of Albury City Council, Armidale Regional Council, Coffs Harbour City Council, Griffith City Council, Lismore City Council, Mid-Coast Council, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, Tamworth Regional Council, Tweed Shire Council and Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council.

Plan together using data

There’s no doubt that local government service models need to evolve and it will be essential for all councils to look outside of themselves and plan together using robust data.

As a result, a much broader view of the value of local government will be visible as it intersects with key levels of government and other stakeholders.

Annalisa Haskell is CEO of Local Government Professionals, NSW.

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