Australian local government finds itself operating under conditions of acute financial austerity, manifested most plainly in a burgeoning infrastructure backlog. Various policy measures have been adopted to relieve this financial distress, most notably recent structural reform programs centred on forced council amalgamation. However, compulsory consolidation has not only failed to achieve its intended aims, but it has also served to diminish ‘local voice’ and ‘local choice’ and left a lasting legacy of bitterness and division.
By contrast, as an alternative method of reaping the benefits of scale, scope, specialisation and size in local government service provision, but without all the deleterious effects of forced council mergers, service shared services offer significant promise for local government. Councils in Cooperation is the first attempt to comprehensively explore and assess the potential of resource sharing, shared services and other forms of inter-council cooperation in the Australian local government sector.
Drawing on the full weight of international and Australian literature, Councils in Cooperation evaluates the theoretical literature on shared services and advances a new conceptual framework for explaining the comparative performance of shared service programs in practice. The authors consider alternative models of shared service provision and investigate the relative merits of these models. The book then systematically assesses the global empirical evidence on shared services and explores successful – and failed – attempts at shared services in the Australian milieu, providing various case studies of Regional Organisations of Councils, Strategic Alliances as well as vertical and horizontal shared service arrangements in contexts as varied as Greater Western Sydney, the NSW Central Tablelands and Riverina, and Outback Queensland.
The policy implications arising from this wealth of material are examined in depth in Councils in Cooperation. The authors present a cogent case for policy makers to encourage local authorities to pursue shared service arrangements in selected areas of policy provision so as to reap the benefits which can flow from larger scale and greater specialisation, rather than rely on the heavy-handed and blunt instrument of forced amalgamation. Moreover, heightened cooperation between councils may well foster a ‘bottom-up’ revival of regional development with much better prospects for success than the current pattern of ‘top-down’ regionalism simply imposed on regional communities by national and state governments.
Brian Dollery in the News – 30 April 2013, SMH. Read full article…