Local government in South Australia provides a wide range of services to communities through the 68 local councils which operate in the state. Not only are they responsible for creating and maintaining community infrastructure, they are also directly responsible for the maintenance of local roads, footpaths and storm water drains, the management of waste and recycling, and the provision of facilities for sport and recreation. As such, their involvement in community matters is vital.
In total SA councils had an operating expenditure of $2 billion in 2014/15, and achieved a combined operating surplus of $106 million. They are responsible for $23 billion of assets including around $13 billion of infrastructure. The State’s 68 Councils had net financial liabilities including debt of $628 million – when compared to the value of their assets this net financial liabilities figure is equivalent to a mortgage of only $13,000 on a $500,000 house. These numbers underscore both the size and influence of council business and the importance of strong financial management in the sector.
To protect and promote their interests and that of their constituents, every single council in the state is a member of the Local Government Association of South Australia.
With 100 percent membership, the LGA lives up to its name as “The voice of local government in South Australia”. Because the state government cannot effectively communicate with every local council, the LGA acts as a mediator. The LGA is very much involved in the management of rules and regulations that affect South Australia and it operates a number of cost saving shared service schemes which were first established in the 1980s. Without the association, communication and support would be vastly hindered and the efficiency and effectiveness of local administrations would certainly be hindered.
Assisting in every way possible
Councils decide the nature of projects and capital works and rely on LGA support in various ways, including bulk finance, bulk electricity contracting, workers compensation cover, public liability cover, templates and models. For instance, whenever a council requests help with the undertaking of a new project, the LGA readily provides an array of model documents, templates, and general support which is applicable across the board. Furthermore, it manages the Local Government Research and Development scheme which steadily improves upon existing areas of administration, management, and support.
When councils want to build something like a community centre or sports facility, the LGA provides the councils with advice and funding suggestions. The LGA procurement arm also enables them to seek out bulk priced supplies and contractors to aid with their projects through a carefully maintained system.
LGA SA proposed and worked closely with the State Government in the 1980s to create the Local Government Finance Authority (LGFA). The LGFA effectively operates as a wholesale bank for councils in SA, providing them with better than market rates for financing local government projects.
Driving economic development
In recent years, local government has played an increasing role in driving economic development at the local and regional level. Lisa Teburea, the Executive Director of Public Affairs for the LGA, commented on the fact that councils play an important role in local place making, and work in partnership with other spheres of government to improve the lives of citizens.
“Councils always strive to be a part of the solution to the issues that their communities are facing, but local government is often vulnerable to changes made at the federal level around legislation and funding.”
“Local government always has to be more efficient, especially as they pick up more responsibilities or as funding opportunities change.”
“In terms of challenges across the sector, it’s a constantly evolving field because things are changing so rapidly. The biggest area of growth is definitely economic development,” says Lisa.
Meeting everyone’s needs
As expected, this kind of philosophy is also clearly visible in the workplace culture of the association. As Lisa explains it, one of the major factors which attracts people to local government is the diversity of the work. There are always a lot of things going on. The sector provides people with many opportunities to work across a number of exciting projects in a supportive culture which values, respects and promotes excellence. The great working environment truly makes local government an employer of choice as Lisa tells us.
Of course, the association’s members are always its first priority. It is a fundamental part of what it does and it always caters to their needs, hears their concerns, and attempts to alleviate any issues they may be facing. The LGA offers an educating and training support service which includes training sessions for councils, mandatory training for elected officials, and a number of personal development opportunities available for the personnel of local governments. And as mentioned before, the association is always ready to provide support to the councils whenever it’s necessary.
An example of that is home support services.
“Councils are also starting to think about changes to the Commonwealth funding arrangement for home support services, how to support our older community members.”
“The funding model is changing, causing the councils to rethink about the types of services that they are providing and how they will do it.”
“The LGA is providing guidance and leadership in that area as well. The future of home support and community services at a local government level is an interesting question at the moment,” explains Lisa.
Looking into the future, the association wants to support local government in any way possible. It wants to foster economic growth, provide new ways for the councils to interact with each other and share information, and generally support development wherever possible. By being at the forefront, the LGA is very much able to truly effect change.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Local Government Association of South Australia
WHAT: A membership organization which provides quality service and leadership relevant to the needs of member Councils in South Australia
WHERE: LGA House, 148 Frome Street, Adelaide SA 5000