President’s Column – 27 March 2020

Closures, restrictions, working from home, rate relief, landing fees relief, service cuts, hardship policies, delivery curfews, public health inspections, and even delays to the Federal Budget and questions over FAGs funding – how quickly our world has changed. Yet our communities’ need for help has rarely been higher, nor has the lack of certainty.

The ALGA team have been working hard on your behalf in a number of the above areas at the Federal level, including the lack of clarity over Financial Assistance Grants funding in the coming year.  Councils are now developing their budget processes for 2020-21 and are looking for certainty around their Financial Assistance Grant allocations for 2020-21, especially in light of the Government’s announcement that the 2020-21 Budget will be delayed until October.  The Government’s FAGs funding allocation would normally be announced in the Budget in early May following which councils would be advised of individual indicative FAGs allocations – vital for most Council budget deliberations.  

The current year (2019-20) is the eighth year in which two quarters of FAGs funding have been brought forward.  There is no indication that the Government intends to do anything differently in the coming year although the details are unlikely to be made public before early May.  Whilst we continue to seek clarity, Councils should make the same sorts of FAGs funding assumptions for next year that they have made in previous years.               

Some have called for an advance on next year’s FAGs funds so Councils can inject more cash into our struggling economy. We have expressed caution with this idea, as it is not extra money – it is required for almost every regional Council to function next financial year. If it’s pulled forward, but not replaced next year, it may leave Councils with the unenviable choice of spending it and creating a massive deficit in their upcoming budget, or banking it for next year and creating no stimulus activity. Either way a “pull-forward” of FAGs, on top of the existing six month pull-forward we have been living with for eight years will play havoc with our accounting and business planning in coming weeks.

Our strong advice to the Federal government is to simply grant the sector an additional six months FAGs. Not a pull-forward, just a simple additional grant that we know we can spend straight away on projects and people that will keep our local economies alive and create new jobs in response to the many that have been lost in recent days.

The benefit of partnering with councils in a recovery program is something I continue to highlight  with the Federal Government and Ministers at every opportunity I get, emphasising  the value of relatively small local infrastructure projects as an effective way of boosting small to medium businesses, boosting local employment and making a substantial contribution to local community recovery. This logic is accepted and acknowledged at both the Federal and State level. 

Now is the time for councils to make sure you are ready to demonstrate how the sector could assist with the economic recovery we will all be looking for after the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted. ALGA is strongly advocating for a stimulus package from the Commonwealth Government – and preparation will be the key to our success, because a local government stimulus package is by no means certain due to there being so many areas of need in the community and governments have already committed billions of expenditure and foregone billions more.

Making our best pitch means we need make sure we have projects ready to go.  Projects for which community engagement and consultation is complete, where design is complete or at least advanced, where the necessary approvals are in place, and we can demonstrate real benefits to the economic recovery task.

I’m confident each and every council is doing its best to help our communities manage the current situation but we must also make sure we are ready to lead them in recovery when the time comes.               

Will your Council be ready?

Mayor David O’Loughlin
 ALGA President