IN the wake of the release yesterday of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) into the state of local councils across NSW, Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall has said he would be standing by his communities and their councils.
The report found that in the Northern Tablelands, Moree Plains, Inverell and Glen Innes Severn Councils were ‘fit’, while Gwydir, Guyra, Uralla and Armidale Dumaresq were ‘unfit’ for the future.
Mr Marshall, a former Mayor of Gunnedah and Chairman of the NSW Country Mayors Association, said that the IPART assessment of councils’ viability was disappointingly deficient in some areas, which has impacted on the final ‘fitness’ ratings of some councils in the region.
“Due to the criteria used by IPART, some quite obtuse, our smaller councils never stood a chance of being declared ‘fit’,” he said.
“IPART used a population of 10,000 residents as the benchmark for smaller councils to meet the ‘scale and capacity’ criteria, so regardless of how well run a council is, how much cash on hand it has or how well it manages its assets and works with its community, any council with a population less than 10,000 was automatically considered unfit by IPART.
“Take Uralla Shire Council as an example, it met every benchmark for financial sustainability, infrastructure and service management and efficiency and has the support of its community. IPART declared it unfit because it didn’t meet the ‘scale and capacity’ but yet Uralla’s financial and asset position is better than several councils around the region who were declared ‘fit’.
“IPART made no attempt to justify the use a population of 10,000 residents as the determining factor for fitness and even if it did, why wasn’t this communicated at the outset so our councils to explore alternate options?”
Mr Marshall said that he was also concerned that IPART hadn’t factored into its report any benefits the newly-created New England Group of Councils (NEGoC) joint organisation would bring to councils across the region. He said the organisation would build scale and capacity in the region and result in some significant financial gains in the long run for every council.
“At the end of the day though, it is not IPART that will decide the future of any council, it’s the NSW Government, and I will be doing everything I can to make sure that the interests of our communities are protected,” Mr Marshall said.
“I have made it very clear to my councils and their communities that I will stand side-by-side with them, regardless of the position they adopt, and will take that to the government in the strongest possible terms.”
“While there’s no doubt that mergers can work in the right climate, in and of itself merging councils doesn’t resolve the issues confronting local government, in fact, it can in sometimes exacerbate the problems.
“Reform has to be and is much broader than that. It has to be about financing, governance, planning powers, collaboration and sharing to expertise and services at the very least.
“That’s why I am determined to see NEGoC succeed. It will bring benefits to all member councils and make our region stronger.”
Mr Marshall congratulated Moree Plains, Inverell and Glen Innes councils on being declared ‘fit’ in yesterday’s report.
“This outstanding result has not come about by accident,” he said. “It’s because of the good management and strong leadership at those councils, a lot of hard work and some tough decisions which have been made along the way.
“I congratulate Moree, Inverell and Glen Innes on their great result, which does them much credit.”
Mr Marshall said he would continue to discuss any response to the IPART report with all Northern Tablelands councils.