Ideas in Action

February 17, 2017 | Posted by: Nick Field

Thoughts from the LGPro President on the eve of its Annual Conference

Cube Group Partner Nick Field talks to LGPro President and Glen Eira City Council Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rebecca McKenzie about current trends and innovations in the Local Government sector and the upcoming LGPro Annual Conference – Small Change, Big Difference.

Rebecca, please tell us more about LGPro as a member-based organisation from your perspective?

As a peak body LGPro has, and always will be, about being “by the members and for the members”. It seeks to represent the Officer views, placing it uniquely in the Victorian Local Government sector. Other member groups and peak bodies such as Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) have a Councillor emphasis, and we do partner well with them on various campaigns.

Our focus is on personal and professional development for Local Government Officers, advocacy and building sector wide capability and capacity through events, training, networking and special interest groups.

The Annual Conference is coming up on 22 and 23 February 2017, what was the thinking behind the theme of “Small Change, Big Difference”?

There is recognition that change doesn’t always have to be big bang. There is lots of work going on in each of the 79 Victorian Councils, which collectively will result in much larger change for the benefit of Victorian communities. Our title is also intended to be inclusive, since both LGPro as an organisation, and the Conference as an event, has always sought inclusiveness regardless of an individual’s role, level or type of Council.

How is the Conference different this year to previous years?

It is important to note that the program, theme and agenda are developed by a hard working Steering Committee, rather than being Board or LGPro staff led. It is really important that we let the sector develop the Conference and that we act upon attendee feedback.

We listened to last year’s feedback and the desire to do work within the Conference time itself, to have pragmatic conversations on topics of interest; and have more targeted networking. That has resulted in a different format for the Wednesday with the “streams with themes” concept, a more compressed agenda for Thursday, and culminates on the Thursday night with the dinner and awards. This leaves Friday for some travel or city based meetings, which can be important to our regional and rural based members.

What has not changed is the venue, as Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre is again required for the number of delegates we are expecting.

What in particular are you personally looking forward to in the Conference?

I am particularly biased in this, as I’m the Facilitator, but I’m keen to be involved in the conversation in the Preparing and creating the Future Ready workforce stream.

I’m hoping the Wednesday evening welcome drinks provides the chance to hear from the other concurrent streams on: Place making, public disorder, the digital age, wellbeing and arts in growing communities. On Thursday, I really cannot separate between any of our fantastic keynotes speakers (Holly Ransom, Phil Ruthven AM and Associate Professor Dianne Vella-Brodrick), and the Short Talks presenters. I’m also fascinated to hear back from our Emerging Leaders Program participants and award winners.

However I’m not as keen on the ‘Have you been paying attention?’ quiz. It’s a fun session for the delegates, but it really puts us CEOs on the spot!

We even hear, you are handing over the Master of Ceremonies (MC) microphone at the awards dinner this year, who has that responsibility?

Yes it can certainly be a tough gig to hold the attention of such a large audience. This year the MC will be local comedienne Genevieve Morris, who is perhaps best known for playing Barbara in the ANZ Bank TV adverts. She has some good knowledge of the sector, having previously MC’ed at many local government events.

What can we expect from those nominated in the Awards for Excellence?

I have to declare that even as President, I don’t yet know who has won. The Awards really are well coveted, often regarded as the Local Government Oscars; and the dinner really is our annual night of nights. The initiatives are all judged on their merits, with a consideration of community outcomes. The awards are about recognition in the sector, healthy competition, the sharing of good practice and the opportunity to learn from others. The atmosphere is really celebratory and there is a lot of goodwill in the room, ranging for the cheers for the smaller councils; through to the tables of the larger metro councils.

There were a number of challenges for Local Government in 2016, what are some of the issues the sector (and indeed your own Council) face in 2017?

Local Government is changing, but this is only reflective of the changing, disruptive society we now live in. Some of the big issues for the sector include:

  • Long term financial sustainability
  • Operating in a fiscally constrained rate capping environment, coupled with the fall of grant funding in real terms
  • How to manage growth whilst protecting amenity
  • More informed communities increasing community expectations
  • Educating communities on the services offered by the different tiers of government and the tough choices Local Government faces daily
  • Ensuring we deliver services inclusively to increasingly diverse communities, to ensure these communities remain resilient

Many of these will be discussed at the Conference.

It is also a time of opportunities, what are some of the innovations you are seeing emerging in the Local Government sector?

There are two emerging trends really, one is being more customer focused and the other is in digital innovation.

In the past Local Government took the attitude of knowing what was good for their communities, all with the best intentions. But now we are increasingly transforming to true community-led planning and stronger outcomes. I’m also watching with interest the great things a number of Councils are doing in the digital space as it becomes faster, cheaper and thus more accessible to communities.

You are the new President of LGPro, how did that come about? What has your historical involvement been with LGPro?

I was elected President by the Board and the President is in many ways like a Mayor, in that on the Board you are first among equals. The role is often held by a CEO and I am the past Vice President, which made for a smooth transition. The Board has a strong and diverse team, with good representation from a range of types of Councils.

I joined LGPro when I entered Victorian Local Government in 2009 and a few years later got onto the Board. Unlike my peers I didn’t have a Victorian Local Government pedigree, and LGPro offered me the opportunity to build my profile, networks and knowledge of the sector.

I’m also keen to hear about your career path to your current role as Glen Eira CEO?

Most recently I was CEO at Mitchell Shire Council and Corporate Services Director at Yarra Ranges. I also spent five years working in the United Kingdom (UK) for Swindon Borough Council. The UK model is very different, so not very comparable, but working there has given me a broader context. From that experience I’m able to reflect on issues such as: stringent performance reporting, the concept of place making and the growth of outsourcing or Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

Thanks for your time, we look forward to the Conference.

More information on LGPro and the Conference can be found at www.lgpro.com and the conference hashtag #LGPro17

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