Practical concerns about new Local Govt Act

 

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Representatives from the ASU met with Local Government Victoria in late January in a round of consultation before the finalisation of the new Local Government Act.

While most of the proposed Act is a roll-over of the current Local Government Act, the ASU took the opportunity to raise with LGV some key issues of importance for local government workers.

Foremost among these issues were job security and quality services. On job security, the ASU is happy to see all Councils being required to develop and maintain a "workforce plan" which will oblige CEOs to specify for a projected four year period how many workers the Council will need, what the Council's organisational structure will look like and how the CEO intends to ensure Council staff are drawn from diverse backgrounds.

However the ASU raised some practical concerns about how the workforce plan would work in the real world. For example, we raised concerns the workforce plan does not stop a CEO from using labour hire workers instead of permanent council staff, nor does it stop a council from contracting out to low cost contractors.

We also reminded LGV that one of the original reasons the ASU sought a workforce plan was to compel Councils to take on more apprentices as a way of addressing the future workforce crisis in local government due to its ageing workforce. This is an issue at all councils, though we believe workers at rural councils will benefit more so because of the absence of larger employers in the region offering apprenticeships.

The ASU will be raising these issues in our written submission to the Act review.

Regarding council services, the ASU is pleased to see LGV reverse its earlier decision to drop any requirement in the Local Government Act that would force councils to go through a more rigorous process before contracting out a service. At an earlier stage of the process, LGV proposed to treat services under a "value for money" test, the same as it would for councils sourcing debt or building materials - basically the cheapest option is the best option.

The ASU opposed this proposal on the grounds that services are inherently different to other forms of council expenditure. We were clear that "value for money" is not the same as quality services - or in other words quality services require greater investment than cheaper contractor services.

Thankfully the LGV backflip has partially fixed this problem. A new "Service Performance Principles" is included in the proposed new Act and will serve as a new version of the current Best Value Principles.

However, the ASU does not believe the service performance principles go far enough. For example, they don't require councils to think about the impact on local employment growth and retention any decision they make on services will have. Again this is an issue for all councils, though rural councils will be more effected due to the lack of other employment opportunities in the area.

This is a lowering of the bar from the Best Value Principles. This is a change we will be seeking in our written submission to LGV on this process.

Finally it comes as a disappointment that rate capping, which threatens both job security and services, won't be reviewed until the end of 2021. The legislation requires a review every 4 years - since rate capping was introduced in 2015 a 4 yearly review should be concluded by 2019. However this won't be the case under the proposed new Local Government Act.

The ASU will be raising these issues and others in our written submission to the Local Government Act review, which closes on 23 February.

For more detail on the Local Government Act review: please contact ASU Research and Policy Officer Robert Bozinovski via rbozinovski@asuvictas.com.au

READ MORE: Local Government Act Review

 


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