05/02/2009 - 15:19

Local councils urged to reduce numbers

05/02/2009 - 15:19

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Local councils have up to six months to advise the state government of their amalgamation plans and intentions to reduce the number of elected members.

Local councils have up to six months to advise the state government of their amalgamation plans and intentions to reduce the number of elected members.

Minister for Local Government John Castrilli today announced the strategies for local government reform based on a voluntary reduction in the number of individual councils.

The Liberal-National government strategies aim to achieve greater capacity for local government to better plan, manage and implement services to their communities with a focus on social, environmental and economic sustainability.

Mr Castrilli, who announced the strategies at a combined local government ward meeting in Exmouth, said he hoped future merged councils would also reduce their total number of elected members to between six and nine.

"I am inviting each of the 139 councils within Western Australia to embrace this opportunity to voluntarily amalgamate and to voluntarily reduce the total number of elected members for each council," he said.

Mr Castrilli's comments were heavily criticised by the Western Australia Local Government Association president Bill Mitchell, who said the state government has broken its election promise.

Councillor Mitchell said that prior to last year's state election, WALGA had secured commitments from both the Liberal and National parties that there would be no forced amalgamations of councils.

He also criticised the six month deadline announced by Mr Castrilli, who says it is enough time for each council to report amalgamation and reduction plans.

"There is nothing voluntary when you are given a six month deadline and told what the outcome has to be and that if you don't volunteer it will be forced," Cr Mitchell said.

He added that over the past four years, WALGA had research and consulted with the sector on achieving greater sustainability, with the final plan now being implemented by 135 out of 139 councils in the state.

"What this announcement has done is damage all work towards regional cooperation by Local Governments who will now be focused only on ensuring their own survival in an amalgamation process," Cr Mitchell said.

Mr Castrilli has also requested all local governments to form appropriate regional groupings of councils to assist with the efficient delivery of their services. This would be in line with proposed grants to local government, under the recently announced Country Local Government Fund which services individual councils and their regional organisations.

"The strategies I have announced today take the regional approach to decision making to another level for local governments within WA," he said.

"In October last year, I established the Local Government Sustainability Joint Steering Committee to review the West Australian Local Government Association Sustainability Study and develop an implementation strategy.

"After carefully considering its recommendations and additional research, I am convinced that local government in its current form is simply not sustainable."

Mr Castrilli said there were 85 local councils in WA serving populations of less than 2,000 people.

He also noted more than 50 councils had representation ratios of one councillor to less than 100 electors and this ratio fell as low as one to 20.

"The benefits from amalgamations across the state, including metropolitan Perth, will be very significant," the Minister said.

"These include achieving greater economies of scale, elected members clearly focusing on governance and long-term strategic planning.

"Increased competition for staff positions within the sector will be a welcome change from the present situation."

Mr Castrilli observed that fewer, yet larger, local governments would improve their State and Federal Government lobbying capacity, and this may lead to additional funding and partnerships from those levels of government and the private sector to further improve services to communities.

To oversee and assist local governments with implementation of the strategies, the Minister is proposing to establish a Local Government Reform Steering Committee to include public and private sector representation and two elected members of the
Local Government Advisory Board.

Four working groups will report to the steering committee on a regular basis.

"I urge each local council to take every advantage of this opportunity for voluntary reform," Mr Castrilli said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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