Community Care in a Reforming Local Government Context
Local government remains an entrenched institution, pre-dating Federation by some six decades. Historically, there has been no “one size fits all” when it comes to local government. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why State governments have struggled to keep local government focussed on “rates”, “roads” and “rubbish”, despite many local communities wanting “more”.
Let’s not pretend that there are not issues of inefficiencies, ineffectiveness and sometimes corruption across Local Government organisations. There are. But let’s stop pretending that by creating bigger, but fewer local government organisations the issues of inefficiencies, ineffectiveness and corruption will go away.
Leaving the highly political issue of amalgamations aside, local government organisations need to celebrate and leverage off their strength as a planner, provider, funder and supporter of community services and support. This is the “more” that is in high demand and highly valued by citizens. This is the “more” that we have come to expect from our local government organisation. Capacity builders, enablers and providers of child care centres, youth centres, recruiter of volunteers, deliverers of meals to frail aged citizens. Libraries providing tutoring and support to “at risk” young people. Recreation and social support services to keep us connected, fit and well. Spaces and resources to support groups to get on and do their own thing in their own community. The “go to” place to get information and to seamlessly access a complex service delivery system. These are some of the activities local government agencies do so well and deliver deep lasting social impact at a local level.
The challenge today however is that the “easy” block State and Federal funding models will change. Local government agencies and their mostly not for profit, community partners will (mostly) no longer compete to receive chunks of government funding. Local government agencies will need to think about how they will compete for eligible customers. Customers who will be assessed are eligible for services and customers who will have choice in a growing and changing market.
As we work with different local government agencies we are seeing three potential pathways in regards to community service provision. Local government agencies need to decide whether or not to :
Prepare to compete and become a provider of choice in your local area. Build services in line with customer demand;
Relinquish direct service provision and focus on community capacity building role and resource others;
Partner with others and develop service offers in line with demand
A tough but important decision in reforming times that demands accountable and transparent processes. If you think amalgamation is causing political tensions, wait until your local Council decides to relinquish its Meals on Wheels service or closes down its Senior Citizens Service. Engage with others. Collect the facts. Think it through. Be clear about your purpose as a local government agencies. Seize the opportunities.