Farmers urged to engage with local councils

NSW Farmers today urged farmers and rural communities to engage with their local councils following the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) Review which ruled 56 percent of councils in regional areas did not meet the NSW Government’s fit for the future criteria.

The association encouraged its members to engage directly with local government before 18 November – the government’s deadline for councils to consult with communities and submit their preferred amalgamation partner.

NSW Farmers’ business, trade and economics spokesperson Mr Peter Wilson said members strongly opposed any amalgamations unless there were substantial economic benefits or improved service delivery for local communities.

The IPART report found that 56 percent of councils in regional NSW were not ‘fit for the future’ because they lacked scale and capacity. But, they could not meet scale and capacity guidelines unless they agreed to amalgamate.

IPART’s review recommended mergers in order to reduce costs, improve financial performance and deliver services into the future. It also claimed that amalgamations could generate up to $2 billion in savings across the next 20 years for NSW ratepayers.

“Councils should be held accountable for their ability to provide essential local services, local planning which meets local needs and appropriate oversight of spending to ensure that it is in the best interests of the community,” Mr Wilson said.

“But no amalgamations should proceed unless there are mechanisms to protect local community input and consultation and clear savings for ratepayers can be demonstrated.

“It’s important to recognise the potential for amalgamations to create rival communities in the same local government area, competing for funding and services.

“The tyranny of distance can create geographic and psychological divide between communities in rural areas, making this a particularly acute issue. It provides a challenge for service delivery which, while not insurmountable, is deserving of serious consideration,” he said.

Mr Wilson said that the interesting thing about the IPART recommendations were that of the non-metropolitan councils reviewed:

• 76.5% met the financial criteria overall

• 75.3% were found to be sustainable

• 91.8% met the criteria for infrastructure and service management

• 85.9% were found to be efficient.

NSW Farmers also said the current review of local government was an opportunity to review local government rate structures which were often wildly divergent in their treatment of agriculture.

At a meeting of 70 Executive Counsellors from around NSW this month, NSW Farmers passed two motions calling for the NSW Government to ensure rate structures are fair, reasonable and equitable and also for Government to consider any reasonable request for a local Government boundary change where farmers can demonstrate they are suffering from an unfair or inequitable rate burden.

The motions stemmed from issues members have with the Mid Western Regional and Wellington Councils.

“It’s clear that a lot more work needs to be done to ensure that any amalgamations benefit the local community which councils serve and I’m not sure that the 18 November deadline with a ‘carrot and stick’ approach by the NSW Government will achieve the best result for all those affected,” Mr Wilson concluded. ends

27 October 2015

Contact: Charlie Cull

Phone: 1300 794 000

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