Joint organisations coming in 2018
The State government is set to introduce new legislation this month so that local councils in NSW can voluntarily form new regional joint organisations. You can expect JOs to start rolling out across NSW from the middle of next year. In this post, we take a closer look at some of the pilots and share our thoughts on the future of JOs.
History of joint organisations
The creation of JOs has been on the cards since the announcement of the Fit for Future reforms back in 2014. Now that the prospect of further local council mergers has been put to bed, the government is moving ahead with JOs – although not entirely as previously planned. The peak body for local government (LGNSW) has lobbied for JOs to get up and running for some time. So this move is seen as a win for regional local councils. For more details about the JO model, have a read of our earlier post.
JOs have been trialled in five different regions across NSW. Clearly, the State government has viewed these trials as a success given the willingness to further progress the concept.
Each pilot JO has had a different composition, focus and outcome – reflecting the need for flexibility within the JO model and the need for it to be tailored to suit the priorities of each region. For example, pilot JO projects have included:
/ Illawarra Joint Organisation identified a significant issue for the region is youth unemployment. A key outcome for the JO to date has been the creation of the Illawarra Youth Employment Strategy.
/ Namoi Councils joint Organisation – now known as Namoi Unlimited – identified a key focus to create economic growth in the region. One outcome has been the development of a regional investment prospectus in partnership with the RDA for Northern Inland NSW.
Boundaries of joint organisations
Whilst the pilot JOs have been seen as a success by the State Government, there has been a rocky road along the way for some – including with respect to boundaries and membership.
In anticipation of the new JO model back in 2015, the New England Group of Councils was formed by a number of councils. This group was an interim measure aimed at collaboration and resource sharing. The Namoi JO was also formed as a pilot region. There was subsequently disagreement between local councils about which councils should be members of the Namoi JO and the New England Group of Councils. Armidale Regional Council intended to break with the New England Group of Councils and apply for membership with the Namoi JO. Although this ultimately did not take place.
To give certainty about boundaries for future JOs, the State Government has made it clear that membership must align with the NSW planning boundaries. However, JOs may “nest” within these regions. This means there is still likely to be some political argy bargy in settling the final boundaries for JOs in the coming months.
The question also remains how JOs will interface with existing regional partnerships (such as ROCs) as well as existing regional bodies like RDAs. It is interesting to note that the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s “Regional Economic Development Strategies” also have different regional boundaries. These are based on “functional economic regions”. Given that the focus of some JO’s will undoubtedly be economic development, this is another inconsistency with long-term planning opportunities.
Future challenges for joint organisations
At the core of the JO model is the concept of collaboration. This includes collaboration across local government areas, as well as with State and Federal governments. This sounds great in theory, but the question remains whether real outcomes will follow.
Earlier in the year Moree Shire Plains Council pulled out of the Namoi JO. The Mayor stated this was due to concern about the resources required to support the JO. Scale in procurement processes was also not seen as an advantage as benefits did not necessarily flow to local businesses. This highlights two potential challenges for the JO model in the future:
/ It may be seen as another layer of bureaucracy which needs to be resourced. Whilst the State government will provide $3.3 million seed funding for local councils choosing to be part of a JOs, there is no guarantee of ongoing funding. This means JOs are likely to operated from the purse of local councils.
/ JOs need to deliver tangible outcomes for local councils (and their communities) to represent true value. Like RDAs this means moving beyond planning for the region, to delivering real results.
Overall, we see the formation of joint organisations as a good thing for regional NSW. This opens up an opportunity for collaboration and encourages councils to look beyond their own backyards. However, to be a success JOs must add real value to their communities and must not be seen as just another layer in the government system. We already have a myriad of “regional” bodies and studies – let’s hope that JOs can find a genuine place to value-add and not just replicate existing regional forums.
Our team includes specialists in regional local goverment issues. If you have a question about JOs, please get in touch:
Director – Legal, Governance and Mediation
T 0421 180 881
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