Council plan changes put residents first
MANSFIELD Shire Council is one step ahead of the State Government it appears.
Last week the government unveiled its first major decision as part of the reform of the Local Government Act requiring all councils by law to develop four year plans with their communities.
The change is aimed at giving residents more say in their council’s priorities, services and budgets – putting local residents first and ensuring improved accountability at election time.
The need for local communi- ties to have a stronger say in guiding council directions was a major theme during consultation on the new Local Government Act.
“We have spent the past two years putting people first by delivering on the things that matter to them – like giving them a say on the local services they use every day,” Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins said.
“It’s common sense t hat councils should consult their communities when making their future plans and then be judged on that at election time.”
However, Mansfield Shire Council implemented a more open approach towards its forward planning last year and prior to the budget being set this year held several open public meetings where residents could have a say on what they felt were priority items.
Not only encouraged to do so by the introduction of the rate capping, council also asked residents what they felt were the more important issues facing council at this time.
Mansfield Shire also advocates community consultation i n many of i t s major projects before decisions are made hence allowing residents to be a part of the planning processes.
Following a two year trial t hrough other councils, Ms Hutchins s a i d c ommunity consultation revealed 90 per cent of participants supported a requirement for councils to engage local residents when forming their plans, with 96 per cent in favour of annual reporting on its implementation.
H o w e v e r , c o mmun i t y consultation may be pushed a rung higher and the government says this first step will push to make sure residents play a bigger role in their local council.
Councils currently are only required to exhibit the plans for 28 days and take submissions.
The Labor Government wants councils to involve communities from the start through tools like citizens’ juries or community panels.
The change, along with many others, will be introduced late next year.
The government is undertaking the first comprehensive review of the Local Government Act since its inception in 1989.
While all elements of the existing Act are under review, the requirement for councillors to consult their communities on strategic plans is the first change unveiled from the ongoing review.
Other reforms are proposed in the review’s Directions Paper, Act for the Future, which was launched in June and is available at www.yourcouncilyourcommunity.vic.gov.au.