Amalgamate, collaborate, stalemate – what’s it going to be?
Local government reform is once again on the agenda in Tasmania. Despite various attempts and pushes for change, no major structural reform has happened in the sector since 1993, when the number of councils was reduced from 47 to 29.
In November last year, the State Government started a dialogue with councils on voluntary council amalgamations and resource sharing. The driver for this latest round of reform is to improve the strategic capacity, financial sustainability and service delivery of councils. All these resonate well only if they can be translated into improved efficiency, value for money, increased capability and ultimately, improved public value outcomes for the community.
The objectives and principles for considering proposals are in place, however an explicit ‘case for change’ appears understated. The engagement with councils has explored possible solutions but has so far focused less on the problem being fixed. The objectives of improved strategic capacity, financial sustainability and service delivery all ‘hint’ at possible problems, for example, limited revenue bases, increased service expectations and lack of resources. However, what about the impact on public value outcomes, such as improved liveability and economic growth for local communities?
Having concluded the regional forums and face-to-face meetings phase of the process, councils now have until Easter to flag their intentions to either consider proposals to amalgamate, collaborate, both or none. Many councils, such as Hobart City Council, have already publicly stated their position and are keen to continue the conversations. To remove immediate barriers, the State Government is willing to provide funding to help councils investigate proposals for amalgamations and resource sharing.
Given the still early stage of the reform process, now is a good time for public value outcomes to form part of that future conversation. Which public value outcomes are likely to be improved by amalgamation or resource sharing? Which outcomes might be negatively affected? Our public value compass provides a framework to start this conversation.
What do you think should be the criteria for contemplating change?