A new study titled “Why Local Government Matters in South Australia” has shone new light on attitudes held by South Australians towards local councils.
LGA President Mayor Dave Burgess said this study, undertaken by the Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology Sydney, showed ratepayers wanted and expected their councils to provide more than “roads, rates and rubbish”.
“Local government services or roles ranked as extremely important or very important by respondents included ‘planning for the future’ (81%), ‘emergency and disaster management’ (79%), ‘economic development’ (71%) and ‘promoting the benefits of the local area’ (65%),” Mayor Burgess said.
“As you’d expect, respondents also acknowledged councils have a key role to play in the provision of infrastructure, as well as in areas such as aged care, sport, recreation and libraries.”
“While the Liberal Party continues to push a rate capping policy which would limit local government services, this study shows communities want more from their councils – not less.”
Mayor Burgess said the report also highlighted public cynicism about the potential for council amalgamations to return significant benefits to communities.
“In recent months we’ve seen a push from some special interest groups towards council amalgamations in SA, suggesting they would result in considerable savings for ratepayers,” Mayor Burgess said.
“The focus groups consulted as part of this study were cynical of this approach, and generally saw more negatives than positives in amalgamations.
“Positives were seen in bulk buying, pooling resources, and sharing knowledge; all of which councils can – and do – achieve by working together through shared services arrangements.
“The negatives which outweighed these benefits included the potential for inequality in distribution of services in larger areas, larger contractors taking jobs from local businesses, and significantly, the loss of local representation.”
The focus groups were also concerned amalgamations would lead to lower accountability levels, reduced service levels and a lack of local knowledge impacting effectiveness.
Mayor Burgess said the results would continue to help councils better understand public attitudes, and help drive ongoing reform and efficiency efforts in the sector.
“As a sector we are on a path of continuous improvement, and aspire to be the most efficient sphere of government,” Mayor Burgess said.
“This research will help us to better understand what our communities want, and how we as a sector can continue to meet their needs.”
The “Why Local Government Matters in South Australia” report is based on a public survey (1,002 online respondents) and four focus groups both from metropolitan and country residents.
It follows on from a national study undertaken in 2014/15 by the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG), based in the University of Technology Sydney.
This new report has been funded by the South Australian Local Government Research and Development Scheme and the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government.