The complexities of Local Government - Presidentís comment

Article image - The complexities of  Local Government - Presidentís comment Councillor Marg Attley, President Victorian Local Governance Association.

In my second year as President, the VLGA has been working closely with our members and the sector more broadly, to highlight and support the principals of effective governance.

Local government is a significant sector in Victoria.  
It is a large employer across 79 local councils, employing over 43,500 staff, governed by 641 elected councillors.  

The sector manages an annual revenue of $9.9 billon.

The operational complexities of councils and the responsibilities of councillors are increasing significantly in line with community expectations.

The federal and state governments delegate the delivery of critical services to local government – this is not surprising given that the sector has the closet touch-point of any level of government with the communities in which people live and work.  

As a result, local government is often at the forefront to lead social change – and council business is not just restricted to the notional idea of ‘roads, rates and rubbish’.

If it were that limited, there would be no subsidised childhood immunisation services and the state’s GP’s and hospitals would be overwhelmed.

There would be reduced kindergarten and aged care services, leaving parents and carers having to rely on ‘for profit’ services; there would be no local libraries, and there would be a reduced number of community sporting grounds for rest and recreation.

Local parks and playgrounds would be left unmaintained and therefore unable to support residents to relax and enjoy the company of their friends and families.

In Victoria, the ability to deliver services in line with community expectations has been complicated by the rate capping policy imposed on councils which limits councils’ ability to raise revenue to cater for such demand, particularly in a cost shifting environment.

In the future, councils will need to be given the opportunity to be creative and entrepreneurial in their capacity to increase other income streams.

These factors, together with the scope and complexity of the business of local government, combine to place significant governance responsibilities on elected councillors.

Where they may once have been seen as community leaders and volunteers, they are now having to juggle these roles with financial oversight, strategic policy, risk assessment and the organisational oversight of multimillion-dollar businesses – similar to directors of corporate entities.

The responsibilities and role of local government and elected councillors in Victoria are currently prescribed under the Victorian Local Government Act 1989.

The VLGA specifically advocates for the importance of the role of effective local government, one that models the principals of integrity and transparency and leadership excellence.