\ Op ed: Local council mergers are good for Sydney – Committee For Sydney

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Op ed: Local council mergers are good for Sydney

May 18, 2016

Source: The Daily Telegraph
Author: Michael Rose

Wednesday 18th May 2016

MOST Sydneysiders will welcome council amalgamations. There will always be a vocal minority against any change but most support more effective and responsive local government.

The opponents of amalgamation use many arguments that are often contradictory and sometimes self-interested. A good example is the argument that only small-scale councils can be truly representative and ­engaged with their community. This argument ignores the experience of other cities. Smaller councils are rarely more effective than councils with the scale to engage and respond effectively to both small local issues and broader “whole of city” issues.

Most of Sydney’s 41 councils are simply too small to do their jobs well and many have insufficient capacity to effectively defend the interests of their communities.

By empowering bigger, more ­effective councils we can actually strengthen their capacity to engage their citizens in shaping the future of their communities. Councils with greater scale and strength will have the clout and scope to be more equal partners with other tiers of government and the private sector.

This will mean the community’s ­vision for the development of their local area is actually delivered.

The evidence supporting amalgamations is strong. The OECD found amalgamations are highly significant in improving a city’s wealth and ­efficiency, not just for the few but the many. This is why cities from Paris to Auckland have recognised the benefits of amalgamations.

Meanwhile, we have nine different councils operating along Parramatta Rd. Can anybody doubt communities would be stronger in shaping this key corridor if there were fewer but more empowered councils?

And, as to community engagement, how many residents feel their council has even the slightest idea what they want or need? How many go to council meetings or even know their council members? Larger councils can invest in the tools that allow effective ­engagement and participation for residents in decisions at the local level.

For example, Paris is implementing citizens’ budget ideas through an online portal. Some Sydney councils are already trialling similar ideas.

But without additional capacity and authority, we will never see the transformation to responsive urban government that technology offers.

Amalgamations can unlock the ­potential for local government that is empowered, representative and ­engaged with its local community.

The debate on amalgamations must focus on this potential, unlocking local government’s ability to better engage now and for the future.

Read the full piece at the Daily Telegraph here.

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