Councils are heading into another Integrated Planning and Reporting cycle and one of the things that we frequently find, and most councils acknowledge, is the difficulty in integrating the Resourcing Strategy and, as a result, it is often the weak link. While this is understandable given the business and competing priorities of local government managers, unless we can commit to engaging on long-term service priorities, we will always be stuck planning short-term and ad hoc. Admittedly the political framework doesn’t help, but, until we can lay the proper fundamentals, it makes it hard for organisations to get a clear picture. This includes knowing what each of its services’ long-term goals are, how they impact on each other, how they impact resources and how, as a service package, they impact organisational sustainability collectively. From this, management can plan and schedule the necessary improvements to be sustainable.
Councils have great foundations to better understand and predict the service needs of their community over the medium term. Demographic projections, state or regional priorities, Section 7.11 and 7.12 plans, the Community Strategic Plan and other local strategies, shape what services will look like over the next four years, with some confidence and predictions over the next ten. This information, along with staff technical expertise, indicates when decisions need to be made and when demand for each service is likely to change, increase or decrease.
If councils could articulate these service specific directions into longer-term service plans and translate the implication of this direction into their Asset Management Plans, Workforce Plans and Long Term Financial Plans, then it will produce a far more integrated Resource Strategy which sets out the whole picture. This will enable more strategic decisions to be taken, or, at a minimum, short-term decisions with an awareness of what’s coming down the track.
Currently it is all too easy and common to kick the can down the road by focusing on the first one or two years and ignore looming decisions that will impact longer-term sustainability. It takes both strong leadership and supportive governance to recognise and commit to the need to plan long term for sustainability and then stay relatively close to that path. There is no easy fix to change years of ingrained culture around how local government decisions are made, but there are councils leading the change to at least get more information in front of councillors. This increases awareness of the impact of current decisions within the overall context of the impact on future decision-making.
If you are interested in discussing further, or would like to know how Morrison Low can assist councils in this area, please contact Stephen Bunting at email@example.com or 0418 124 437.