Bigger than Bill Gates: celebrating local councils

The old adage – councils are about roads, rates and rubbish – is long gone, writes NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock.

Today, our modern day councils are big business – and the numbers are staggering.

Shelley Hancock

NSW has 128 councils. Collectively they employ 45,000 people – equivalent to the worldwide workforce of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia – the largest bank in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact some regional and rural councils are the biggest employer in town and the lifeblood of the local economy.

And they spend more than $11 billion each year on infrastructure, facilities and services for local communities – more than double the $5.3 billion cost of building Sydney’s second airport at Badgerys Creek.

Not to mention that local councils control assets worth more than $150 billion – eclipsing the net worth of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. These council assets include 165,213 km of roads, 460 pools and 1,835 public halls as well as billions of dollars in buildings, structures, and water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure.

And with the support of the NSW Government, the local government sector has been working hard to reduce the state’s infrastructure backlog from $7.5 billion in 2010-11 to $3.6 billion in 2017-18.

But the worth of local government isn’t necessarily just in the headline statistics.

Sure local councils are vital to the State’s economy. But they play a much more important role – they are the heart of our local communities.

Our councils provide a wide range of services and facilities to our local communities including libraries, roads, waste collection, footpaths, parks, pools and animal shelters.

However, our modern day councils go so much further, providing a diverse range of quality facilities and services including art and cultural centres, regional sporting complexes, childcare centres, museums and galleries.

They employ a wide range of staff from childcare workers, to dog catchers, street cleaners, gardeners, and engineers and planners.

They are crucial to the built environment of our towns, cities and suburbs – approving tens of thousands of development applications each year and setting planning and development rules in consultation with their communities.

And they even play a pivotal role in strengthening the welfare of our beloved pet cats and dogs through education and awareness activities, dog recreational areas, pounds and shelters, and ranger services.

The NSW Government is committed to supporting and strengthening local council’s capacity to build strong, prosperous communities.

Since 2011, this Government has provided more than $9 billion to NSW councils to deliver and improve local infrastructure, services and facilities.

Programs such as our Local Government Infrastructure Renewal Scheme and TCorp low-cost loans are helping local councils to place a greater focus on the management and renewal of their assets.

Through T-Corp alone, more than $647 million in loans to local councils have now been funded across the State, ensuring investment in projects that will deliver real and lasting benefits to local communities.

Local Government Week (July 29 – August 4) is the perfect time to acknowledge and celebrate the important role councils play in our daily lives.

*Shelley Hancock is the NSW Minister for Local Government.

*You can read opposition local government spokesman Greg Warren’s take on how the state government can support councils next week. 

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