Of the 41 Sydney metropolitan councils IPART has found that 93% are financially fit yet deemed only a quarter as ‘Fit for the Future’ due to the arbitrary assessment criteria of ‘scale and capacity’. These councils are financially sustainable, efficient and addressing their local infrastructure needs.
Remarkably, the biggest council in Sydney, Blacktown City Council with over 300,000 residents, has chronic financial problems and fails on financial sustainability but was given a big tick by IPART.
Despite his bullying language Premier Baird does not have a majority in the NSW Upper House to give the Local Government Minister additional powers, and no clear path to force amalgamations on unwilling local councils.
Greens MP and Local Government Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“This is a government that has undertaken a bloody-minded political campaign against local democracy and local communities.
“IPART’s report found that almost every submission they received from communities and resident groups supported their local council and opposed amalgamations. This democratic feedback was ignored by IPART.
“The entire IPART assessment process was designed as little more than a rubber stamp for the government’s ‘bigger is better’ ideological agenda to bully local councils into amalgamations.
“IPART did not look at the democratic responsibility of councils and failed undertake any proper engagement with the residents of communities impacted by proposed amalgamations.
“The fact that the government took less than two business days to ‘consider’ IPART’s report shows just how perfunctory the entire assessment process was.
“The community aren’t mugs, they can see that this was never about a rational assessment of local council’s ‘fitness’ but rather a political hatchet job by the Baird government.
“IPART was put in a strait-jacket that forced them to fail almost every financially sustainable council because they refused to merge. They refused to merge because they listened to their residents.
“Councils didn’t fail IPART’s ridiculous test because of financial reasons, they failed to meet government’s ill-defined and discretionary test of ‘scale and capacity.’
“With more than 50 regional and rural councils facing the chopping block, there are many smaller towns and communities across the State who will be rightly concerned at the loss of essential and steady local council jobs.
“In much of regional and rural NSW, keeping council jobs can mean all the difference between keeping teachers, banks and other essential services in local communities.
“The Premier can abuse and bully councils all he likes but at the end of the day he doesn’t have the numbers to forced unpopular amalgamations through the NSW Parliament.
“The Greens will continue to stand with local councils in their campaign to strengthen local democracy and keep local government genuinely local,” Mr Shoebridge said.