May 10 - 16, 2015: Issue 213

 NSW Government's "Fit For The Future" process erodes democracy and local lifestyle

 NSW Government's "Fit For The Future" process erodes democracy and local lifestyle

by Pittwater Scout

At last Monday's (4.5.2015) Pittwater Council meeting, the Mayor Jacqui Townsend expressed concerns in the NSW Government' "Fit For The Future" evaluation process.

This is echoed by Pittwater local community groups, which have huge worries that the process erodes democracy and totally ignores what is of major concern to our Pittwater community - our local lifestyle.

It is also now clear, after the State Election, that the NSW Government could force amalgamations if it deems a council "unfit". The main criteria it will use to assess this fitness is "scale and capacity". There is no looking at what residents want - a clear breach of democracy.

This clarity also came in the form of a media release from the office of Hon. Paul Toole MP, Minister for Local Government, stating the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has been appointed as the Expert Panel by the NSW Government and will assess the Fit For The Future submissions.

In the supporting documents Councils and private individuals have for reference, IPART's Review of criteria for fit for the future Local Government — Final Report September 2014 and IPART Consultation paper Methodology for Assessment of Council Fit for the Future Proposals Local Government — Consultation Paper April 2015a council's scale and capacity is the threshold issue.

From page 6 of the document ' IPART Consultation paper Methodology for Assessment of Council Fit for the Future Proposals Local Government — Consultation Paper April 2015':

How we propose to assess the scale and capacity criterion, as the threshold criterion.

All councils must demonstrate that they either currently have, or will have, sufficient scale and capacity with their proposed approach, consistent with the objectives identified by the ILGRP for their region, and the features of strategic capacity in Box 3.1. We will consider first the ILGRP’s preferred option for each council regarding scale and capacity and whether the council’s proposed option is broadly consistent with this option.

Based on our approach, if the ILGRP recommended a council to stand-alone or undertake structural change, then the council should demonstrate that they first considered making a proposal on this basis. If the ILGRP recommended a merger as the preferred option and the council did not propose one, the council will be assessed as ‘not fit’, unless it presents either:

– a sound argument (eg, using a business case) that demonstrates that the proposed approach is superior to the recommended merger, or

– a merger option broadly consistent with the ILGRP recommendation to merge councils (eg, with three rather than four councils), supported by a sound argument,

Mayor Townsend said in her Mayoral Minute of May 4th, these documents clearly show the NSW Government is strengthening its language around what is expected of local government in this process.

"The first problem here is “scale and capacity”. It is not clear from the methodology how it will be assessed. It appears to be a discretionary assessment to be conducted by IPART," she explains.

The second problem is what are the consequences of being deemed ‘Unfit’?

"Will the Government force a merger?" Mayor Townsend asks. "This has not been made clear by the Government."

Residents groups are so incensed by the process they have formed an umbrella group, Pittwater Forever, which has its own website and facebook page.

Facebook has also caught the I Love Pittwater love-bug with 15 sec videos tagged with #‎YourPittwaterYourSay going viral.

Plus Clareville and Bilogola Plateau Residents Association's President (CABPRA) has written a response to IPART, as are other community groups and Pittwater Council.

CABPRA's President, David Owen says issues which concern the residents - community, environmental, cultural, independent, local and democratic values - seem not be addressed by the the IPART process at all.

"The IPART process, driven by "scale and capacity" outcomes, effectively shuts the residents out of any balanced evaluation process," Owen explains.

His conclusion comes from the fact that there is not one service oriented benchmark being used by IPART to evaluate submissions. For example it will not look at customer satisfaction surveys or problem responsiveness.

"The only benchmarks are financial," he adds. "This makes a real mockery of effective service delivery,"

The IPART process makes no mention or evaluation of a council’s ability to manage the environment e.g. parks and reserves, coastline, waterways, climate change. A huge concern to Pittwater residents.

Plus there is no mention or evaluation of a council’s ability to manage other key areas of concern to residents such as active transport, planning and development, waste management, etc.

The Palm Beach and Whale Beach Association's (PBWBA) Storm Jacklin says the IPART appointment is mockery to democracy.

"IPART is not independent in relation to council matters, having spent years setting rates and levies for councils.

"The appointment of IPART, driven by financial outcomes, instead of the appointment of the promised independent panel, completely undermines and disenfranchises the residents," Jacklin adds.

It is very clear that the IPART “Fit for the Future” process is a top down approach all about what the State bureaucracy wants, i.e. larger, less independent, less local councils. The people and their needs are totally cut out of the process. 

The essence of our lifestyle is we live in an environment not an economy.


All documents referred to in this page are available to download at IPART website page 'IPART to assess Local Council Fit For THe Fture Proposals' - dated 27 April, 2015' at: HERE