Council leaders forum

Recently, 70 Mayors, Deputy Mayors and General Managers from Tasmanian Councils gathered in Launceston to discuss a range of microeconomic issues confronting their Councils. Throughout the forum emphasis was placed on the importance of Councils developing a team approach to running their affairs.

Cr Sue Smith, President of the Local Government Association of Tasmania, said that there had long been a concern that, while much work had been done in terms of professional development for senior staff, elected representatives had not had the same opportunities.

"At a time when Local Government faces massive changes, it is essential to bring together both leadership groups," she said. "Bringing everyone together allows a cross pollination of ideas which can help solve many problems."

Topics covered during the forum included corporate governance, National Competition Policy and the separation of management and elected representatives' roles.

Two Councils presented practical examples of how they set up their Business Units. The City of Hobart's Unit with 300 staff, and Circular Head with just 28 employees, demonstrated the pros and cons of this process for both a small and large Council.

"Practical examples are a much better way of demonstrating the issues involved than all the theory in the world," Sue Smith said.

One of the key issues to come out of the forum was an increased discussion about resource sharing. "Since the amalgamations, there has been a broadened vision of Local Government in Tasmania," she said. "Many more Councils see the value of pooling their resources and sharing costs."

In a split session, General Managers met to discuss competition policy in terms of pricing structures, The Trade Practices Act and external factors impacting on service delivery and costing, while elected representatives considered the best ways to undertake performance reviews for their General Managers.

Elected members agreed that the review process needed to be transparent and fair, ideally carried out by a committee which included someone external to the organisation.

Feedback showed that most delegates regarded the forum as a highly valuable exercise. LGAT, which runs several forums each year, now intends to hold more specifically for Mayors, Deputy Mayors and General Managers together.