This is the second in a series of posts about the recently-released NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel’s final report Revitalising Local Government.
In my last post I provided a brief overview of section 11 of the report which deals with the Panel’s recommendations for the creation of new Joint Organisations (JOs). In this post I will deal specifically with the Panel’s recommendations regarding the role of JOs in State-local cooperation and their formation in the metropolitan region.
I also need to reiterate that I was commissioned by the Panel to prepare a paper on options to enhance regional collaboration amongst councils and in particular the role of Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs – see Volume 2 of the report’s supporting documents) which has informed some of the Panel’s findings and recommendations.
Inter-government relations and strategic planning
The Panel has indicated that a key function for the proposed JOs would be providing a basis for State-local cooperation. This would complement implementation of the NSW government’s arrangements for regional cooperation, for example the Regional Action Plans which form part of the State Plan, Regional Growth Plans and the regional coordination system managed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC). To quote the Panel on the significance of this:
These [NSW government] moves present a rare opportunity for local government to become a real partner in regional planning and development, provided it is organised appropriately, adopts a professional approach to inter-government relations, and is willing and able to commit significant resources to joint activities. By the same token, the State government needs to embrace a partnership approach in its dealings with local government. (p.86)
To support this approach the Panel proposes State government recognition of JOs as partner organisations for joint strategic planning and project coordination, especially in relation to implementing the plans mentioned above. The Panel has also proposed the appointment of JO representatives to State agency regional leadership groups and for council representatives on Regional Planning Boards to be appointed through JOs.
The Panel is also seeking to integrate local government engagement in these by requiring councils to include a section on key regional strategies and proposed joint projects in their Community Strategic Plans and the 4-year Delivery Programs – and for this to be prepared in consultation with other regional councils and State agencies through the JO. This material would then be consolidated by the JO for discussion with State agencies through the DPC regional leadership group, “with a view to its inclusion” in State plans and strategies, as well as helping to identify joint State-local projects.
Arrangements in the metropolitan area
In the Sydney metropolitan and Central Coast regions the Panel proposes that establishment of “fully-fledged” JOs should be deferred pending consideration of its recommendations for council amalgamation, though it does suggest its proposed sub-regional boundaries in the metropolitan area form the basis for joint sub-regional strategic planning (see map).
In fact the Panel’s view expressed in section 13.5 of its report is that if the number of councils in the Sydney region is substantially reduced, then sub-regional arrangements based on these boundaries would focus primarily on these planning processes and development of full JOs would probably be unnecessary. However if there is little or no restructuring of existing council boundaries, then multi-purpose JOs similar to those proposed for the rest of NSW are recommended, though given the large number of councils in parts of Sydney the proposed sub-regions could be split. The Panel notes:
Close collaboration in strategic planning, infrastructure provision and shared services would be especially important. The JOs would also be critical for strengthening partnerships with State and federal agencies to bring about more effective metropolitan governance and growth management.
If however the number of councils is substantially reduced, the Panel proposes a body similar to the South East Queensland Council of Mayors, chaired by the Lord Mayor of either Sydney or Parramatta (see section 13.8). This body would provide a “voice” for the region, representing councils and communities in state, national and international consultations. Even if the number of councils is not reduced the Panel has suggested that sub-regional Councils of Mayors could “come together periodically as a metropolitan local government assembly”.
Whatever occurs in relation to council mergers, the Panel’s recommendations would move regional collaborative arrangements between councils from their current relatively peripheral status to centre stage in the reform process as the key interface between State and local government in the planning process. Because I have a bit more to say about the panel’s proposals on regional collaboration than I previously planned I will address these issues in my next post.