Issue 48 December 2015

MAV President's Update - occasional report from Cr Bill McArthur, President of the MAV

Issue 48, December 2015

Overall 2015 has been a positive year for local government, with many notable council achievements along the way. While our relationship with the new Victorian Government has been mixed throughout the year, the MAV continues to aim for a balanced approach that both strengthens partnerships with them while also heartily protecting the best interests of our sector.

Councils have demonstrated a strong capacity to meet the challenges put to us and come up with smarter, leaner and more efficient ways of delivering everyday services, infrastructure and facilities for our communities.

There have been some vital funding wins this year, but also some sobering reminders that our autonomy as a level of government - and our local role to support and represent our municipal communities – must be protected from a more centralised approach dictated by other levels of government.

A key driver for the MAV’s work is supporting and advancing the wellbeing of communities. This year our advocacy efforts secured an $83.7 million funding boost to help kindergartens implement new staff-child ratios in 2016; funding for small rural kinders with eight or fewer enrolments, and Federal investment to continue 15 hours of preschool in 2016 and 2017; plus $4.5 million for 64 councils in CFA areas to support the emergency management needs of communities. We also secured a long-awaited review of planning fees, which ratepayers have been subsidising as the gap between planning system costs and complexity widens.

At the national level, an extra $225 million was committed to councils over two years in Roads to Recovery funding; we negotiated an agreement with the Commonwealth and Victorian governments to ensure guaranteed funding until 2019 for Home and Community Care services relied upon by 200,000 older Victorians; and worked with the ALGA to secure a commitment as part of the Federation Review that the Commonwealth will continue to be primarily responsible for funding of local government.

Innovation is a key priority for the MAV, and a necessary one if councils are to ensure their communities adapt, survive and thrive in an environment of cost shifting, funding cuts, rate caps and efficiency gains. The benefits of innovation for communities include linked-up government agencies, more efficient services and reduced council costs.

Our new Maternal and Child Health data management system is better tailoring services to individual needs and improving security of family data for 62 participating councils and regional health services; and our Patchwork project, which is transforming how different local services connect with vulnerable families, has expanded from its humble five-council pilot and will be available to all public and private sector health and community services agencies across the state after being endorsed by the Department of Education.

The MAV Procurement team conducted 13 tenders on behalf of councils this year, which members participated in more than 235 times to access both time and cost savings for diverse purchases ranging from tyres, plant and machinery to office supplies and contaminated land management expertise. A new LEAP procurement continuous improvement program is currently working with 23 participating councils to identify sustainable budget savings, create efficiencies, stimulate economic activity, improve probity and strengthen procurement processes and performance.

MAV Insurance continued to provide comprehensive and reliable insurance for members designed to protect councils in the short to long term. An additional A-rated reinsurer was added to the program to further strengthen the scheme’s position and ability to meet members’ long-term needs. Claims received in the last year included for bushfire relating to roadside tree management and electric line safety, as well as for matters relevant to councils’ planning and building authority roles.

To safeguard members against present and future risks, an independent review of catastrophic public liability and professional indemnity risks facing councils was also undertaken to ensure the scheme’s limits are appropriate, which identified insurable catastrophic risks of over $500 million. Additional support, such as free legal and risk management advice and training, was also provided to help members manage their exposures and keep communities safe.

For the MAV, we had our own reminder that while our small team paddles fast and furiously to achieve substantial outcomes for our members, we must also ensure our governance and performance processes are up to scratch. We worked hard to constructively embrace improvements to more than 30 internal governance policies, procedures, frameworks and plans to implement all recommendations from the Victorian Auditor General. We’re also progressing development of performance measures to more clearly articulate how we are delivering for our members.

The recent enshrinement of a rate capping regime into law will be a big challenge to all councils’ business and operating models in the coming year, particularly rural shires.

The Christmas break gives us a chance to refresh, and reflect on the achievements of 2015 and the prospects for 2016. Reform in itself is constructive and councils aptly demonstrated your willingness and ability to restructure, cut costs and show budgetary restraint this year.

We will be working closely with members throughout 2016 to help you achieve the best outcomes for your communities. We will also continue to advance innovative ways of doing business to help keep costs down. This includes further procurement offerings and a collaborative technology platform to provide greater opportunity for council innovation, shared services and cost savings.

The second issuance of our Local Government Funding Vehicle will help ensure council borrowing costs secure more competitive market rates, and our workers compensation self-insurance scheme will also seek to reduce council costs and workplace injuries. We will continue our advocacy efforts to secure fairer funding from other levels of government including Country Roads and Bridges funding for rural councils, restoration of indexation to Federal financial assistance grants, a fair go State-local government funding split for public libraries, and long-term funding deal for 15 hours of kindergarten.

A strong focus will also remain on opportunities presented through the review of the Local Government Act. We will work with members on this once-in-a-generation reform to improve the system, better define our multi-functional responsibilities, and ensure a new Act enshrines our role as an essential and distinct tier of government as set out in the Victorian Constitution. An extensive member engagement process will also be undertaken to review the MAV’s structure to strengthen clarity about our role, rules and operations as an effective and independent member association.

For now, I offer my warmest wishes to you and your family for a safe and happy Christmas break, and I look forward to seeing you in the new year.