Australia

Exploring ideas and solutions for the future of local government

Summary

  • In this briefing, LGiU Australia lead Luke Nicholls, explores content from across LGiU’s international platform that engages with ‘big issues’ for the future of local government.  It identifies valuable ideas around how local councils can generate both momentum and support to address fundamental challenges and develop a set of solutions to benefit local communities for the next decade.
  • Exploring the big issues for the future of local government is an important next step in the maturing of LGiU Australia. This will involve establishing research collaborations to create the next generation of ideas and potential solutions to facilitate Australian local council’s success and impact over the next decade.
  • In drawing together this content from LGiU Global, this briefing links to the bundle of material in the LGiU ‘Unfinished Business’ series, as well as the ‘Future of Local Government Project’ and a selection of material from England & Wales, Ireland and Scotland as well as Australia on the financial sustainability of local government and impacts of Covid-19. Examples of recent big picture briefings from the Australian platform are also be provided.
  • All material is open access, allowing both our members and others interested in the future of local government to engage with the content. To help inform this work, we’re keen to hear what local governments and those who support the sector think are the most critical issues for local government over the next decade, via this short survey.

Briefing in full

LGiU Australia’s approach

Development of a practical, not for profit local-government-focused think tank through LGiU Australia is a work in progress, with its ambitious goals including to:

  • Lead thinking on the future of local government
  • Be known to deliver influential projects and programs
  • Invest in local government innovation, and
  • Empower communities to deliver social impact.

The approach for preparing briefings for LGiU Australia is to address a wide range of topic areas that will be of interested to elected representatives, general managers and executives as well as expert council officers across a diversity of areas. To date we have published over 150 briefings across the following topic areas:

Topic areas for LGiU Australia briefings

Exploring ideas and solutions for the future of local government

Some key ideas we’ve explored so far

Since the launch of LGiU Australia over a year ago, a number of briefings have been prepared on financial sustainability, some sector-wide while other target specific topics.  As an example, in this briefing Graham Sansom writes about local government’s capacity to raise adequate revenues, which have been thrown into sharp focus by the financial impacts of COVID-19.

This was complimented by an earlier detailed analysis by Mark Davies into rate pegging in NSW and Victoria and a topic specific piece on financial sustainability indicators by John Comry.

‘Place’ is a critical scale when discussing local council activities.  It is where local councils have a ‘superpower’ – the ability for local councils to lead at joined-up outcomes for places, due to their engagement with communities and understanding of place-specific context, in a manner that is more difficult for national or regional/state levels of government. Place is often a feature of LGiU material, such as the the recent publication A New Settlement: place and wellbeing in local government, as part of the future of local government series.

Targeted briefings on place from the UK include Power down to level up, resilient place shaping for a post COVID world, Budget March 2021 and placemaking – towards ever greater centralisation?  and targeting the impact of covid in Post COVID councils place and community.

LGiU Australia uses interactive mapping to help tell the story and show the spatial impacts at an LGA level across Australia, instead of using the traditional state by state approach for representing local government issues.  An example from the briefing on the shift to remote working during the pandemic is shown below.

Shift to remote work during the pandemic – interactive map

The long-term impacts on our cities and central business districts

There has been a great deal of speculation here and abroad on the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on our CBDs and cities.  In their recent paper: Cities in a Post-COVID World, Florida, Rodríguez-Pose and Storper ask if the shift to remote working will “create a fundamentally new geography of labor, a change that would have a massive effect on the fundamentals of economic geography and urban systems since 1980?

The ‘Unfinished Business’ Series

While responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major focus, there are many longstanding issues or ‘Unfinished Business’ for local government that pre-dated Covid that also still need to be addressed.

These include issues such as the basis of funding for a financially sustainable local government sector, and the distribution of government roles and functions between national, regional, sub-regional (including metropolitan) or local scales to achieve the best outcomes.

A collation of work undertaken by LGiU in local government reform, under the topics shown below, is able to be accessed here.

The unfinished business series (LGiU)

Exploring ideas and solutions for the future of local government

Future of Local Government Project

Some of our recent research output on the future of local government, and the critical issue of financial sustainability include the work mentioned earlier on place and wellbeing in local government which can be found here and here.

Examples of the discussion on the devolution of power and decentralisation, which are key issues in the UK for local and national government, as explored in this report on the mechanics of devolving power and this literature review  on ‘devometrics’, how to measure decentralization.

Financial sustainability is a critical issue for local government and has been a key focus for LGiU with examples of briefing material including wider briefings on funding of local government found here, here and here as well as more specific topics such as participatory budgeting, as shown here.

A primer on the essentials of local government finance in England provides a discussion of general issues of local government finance in England. The impact on local government finance from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the focus of several briefings, including local government finance in the pandemic and the impact of COVID-19 on English council finance – funding gaps, revenue losses and services implications.

The impacts on local government of the pandemic have also been a focus through LGiU Australia to-date, including the international pandemic news bulletin which was regularly provided during the initial phase of the pandemic. The bulletin shared news, insights and best practice supporting local governments rapid response to the pandemic.

Briefings also considered the impacts on disadvantaged communities in Australia, the impact on local economies and how local government budgets were responding to Covid-19.

Comment

To conclude, exploring the big issues for the future of local government is an important next step in the maturing of LGiU Australia. This will involve establishing research collaborations to create the next generation of ideas and solutions that facilitate Australian local council’s success and impact over the next decade.

This review of the approach, and the resulting material prepared over a number of years for LGiU in its role as a think tank for local democracy, has shown that the approach of local government collaborating to develop a reform agenda and the critical ideas and innovations for future success is possible. This could be achieved in partnership and with support from national and/or state governments across Australia but to be effective needs to be a bottom-up collaboration by local governments.

LGiU Australia is looking to assist local governments in this collaboration, with a more independent focus on developing the ideas and solutions needed to support local councils to continue to deliver significant benefits for their communities.

To help inform this work, we’re keen to hear what local governments and those who support the sector think are the most critical issues for local government over the next decade, via this short survey.

 

For more information on this briefing contact LGiU Australia by emailing mzierke@sgsep.com.au.