The NSW Government says “Joint Organisations will change the way that local councils and State Government work together on regional planning and help to provide better services and infrastructure for regional communities through sharing resources, lowering costs and reducing red tape.”
By the Acting Editor.
The NSW State Government sees Regional Joint Organisations as helping “to achieve important outcomes for communities. These will vary from region to region but the Government argues they could possibly include:
- Improving transport and freight links
- Attracting education and industry
- Improving land use planning and cutting red tape
- Pooling resources to build major works
- Integrating management of major infrastructure
- Undertaking critical infrastructure and skills gap analysis
- Supporting rural councils.
I also think it is important to highlight issues for and against JOs. But before doing so it is important to understand that they are not currently designed to replace, or force the mergers of, existing regional Councils.
The consultants ‘Locale Consulting’ summarised the remaining ‘pros and cons’ of Regional JOs quite neatly here:
“At the core of the JO model is the concept of collaboration. This includes collaboration across local government areas, as well as with State and Federal governments. This sounds great in theory, but the question remains whether real outcomes will follow. Earlier in the year for example Moree Shire Plains Council pulled out of the Namoi JO. The Mayor stated this was due to concern about the resources required to support the JO. Scale in procurement processes was also not seen as an advantage as benefits did not necessarily flow to local businesses. This highlights two potential challenges for the JO model in the future:
- It may be seen as another layer of bureaucracy which needs to be resourced. Whilst the State government will provide $3.3 million seed funding for local councils choosing to be part of a JOs, there is no guarantee of ongoing funding. This means JOs are likely to operated from the purse of local councils.
- JOs need to deliver tangible outcomes for local councils (and their communities) to represent true value. Like RDAs this means moving beyond planning for the region, to delivering real results.
Overall, we see the formation of joint organisations as a good thing for regional NSW. This opens up an opportunity for collaboration and encourages councils to look beyond their own backyards. However, to be a success JOs must add real value to their communities and must not be seen as just another layer in the government system. We already have a myriad of “regional” bodies and studies – let’s hope that JOs can find a genuine place to value-add and not just replicate existing regional forums.“
A key ‘con’ is also the view that the JO is is yet another scheme aimed at continuing cost shifting onto Councils by the State Government. Nevertheless JO’s have real potential for councils and their ratepayers if all parties in a JO are willing to collaborate and take a broader view of what constitutes regional impact than just seeing no further than their existing local government area boundaries. Time will tell if the Councils in the MNC-JO are capable of doing this.