WHY would the council be considering a shared service model that could lead to the loss of up to 50 local jobs?
Fundamentally for the same reason I pursued “efficiencies” while I was on council. The State Government has capped rate rises to an inflation figure that is lower than the inflationary cost of the services and materials a council buys – concrete and bitumen prices are rising faster than bread and milk.
Exacerbating this is that Bass Coast’s rates were in the lowest quartile of similar-sized rural councils when capping came in, leaving us with less wriggle room. The combination of these two means without “efficiencies” we fall further and further behind each year, reducing service levels or cutting some services altogether and selling property.
If you’re sharing services across shires, why not ask the question “Why have local councils at all”? I’ll tell you why: because it means locals, with local knowledge, are making the decisions. Genuine assessments of priorities can be made and addressed. Overheads ought to be able to be kept to a minimum (bar government red tape).
When I came to council, however, there were a lot of staff working there who really didn’t understand why they were doing what they were doing. Efficiencies could be found in the streamlining of processes, and to a lesser extent cutting dead wood, of which there was an element. Staff became accountable, some leaving of their own accord, and some positions disappeared. Thirty local jobs were lost from our economy but we began to rebuild infrastructure and handed a $2.5 million unallocated surplus to the incoming council.
Rates rises have been kept low and things are starting to get done. Although I don’t believe this joint procurement model will mean the loss of more than another 30 positions, I’m not sure I support this scale, or nature of “efficiencies”. Thirty “quality” jobs removed from our local economy, and the local knowledge lost, is probably a stretch too far.
When we don’t attract or keep professionals in our shire, it has adverse flow-on effects. Some of those with these skills will be forced to work away, having less time to contribute, for example, as a footy club treasurer or a community group IT/website geek. Others will move away altogether and we won’t be attracting people who build the capacity and resilience of our community.
It’s also instructive to look at what this would mean to the rates we pay. A rough idea is that each rateable property would save less than $2 a week. Is it worth the loss to our community? The rates won’t go down but this dollar or two a week will help address rate capping and perhaps add a bit to available capital. Just one example of the tough decisions councillors have to make!
Neil Rankine was a Bass Coast Shire councillor from 2012-16.