Five things you need to know about the proposed Hills/ Hawkesbury Merger
1. No requirement for Council to consider a merger case.
Under the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future Reform Program, Hawkesbury City Council has consistently been identified as a no change council with the scale and capacity to stand alone.
Council’s position is consistent with the recommendations of the Independent Local Government Review Panel and the NSW Government response to these recommendations. It is also consistent with the most recent advice from the NSW Government which stated that councils who have been assessed by IPART as having scale and capacity were not required to submit a merger proposal.
The push for a merger is being solely driven by The Hills Shire Council. It is their position which is contrary to Fit for the Future Reform Framework.
2. Council’s position is in keeping with the views of both The Hills and Hawkesbury ratepayers.
Up until 10 November 2015, there had been no indication within the Fit for the Future Reform process that Hawkesbury City Council was required to consider a merger or amalgamation. Therefore Council was not required to canvass the views of the community regarding the merits of a proposed merger. Council advised ratepayers it would be prepare its Fit for the Future proposal on the basis of being a stand-alone Council. This approach was consistent with the Fit for the Future guidelines issued by the Office of Local Government (OLG) and was endorsed by Hawkesbury residents via an online poll.
In preparing its Fit for the Future proposal, The Hills Shire Council had also conducted an on-line survey to seek the views of their residents regarding a full merger with the Hawkesbury – this proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by 90% of the respondents.
Council’s current position in opposing a merger with The Hills Shire is the only position that reflects the views of both The Hills and Hawkesbury ratepayers.
3. It is only Council’s position that has remained consistent
The Fit for the Future Proposal prepared by The Hills Shire did not advocate a full merger with the Hawkesbury. On the 10 November 2015 The Hills Shire Council reversed this position and submitted a revised proposal to the NSW Government advocating a full merger with the Hawkesbury. This about-turn was not supported by any new evidence or community petitioning.
The Independent Local Government Review Panel’s Final Report released in October 2013 recommended that Hawkesbury City Council should remain as a stand-alone Council into the foreseeable future. This recommendation, which was endorsed by the NSW Government in September 2014, has remain unchanged.
Council’s current position in opposing a merger with The Hills Shire is the only position that has remained consistent.
4. There is no evidence or business case or community support for the proposed merger.
The proposal by The Hills Shire to merge with the Hawkesbury was first put forward less than one month ago (10 November 2015).
This proposal has been submitted without a robust and detailed due diligence business case to establish the financial and social costs and benefits of the proposed merger. The only available financial analysis for the merger is a heavily qualified desktop audit undertaken by Ernst and Young at the request of IPART. This analysis was wholly based on the theoretical application of a standard formula to each Council’s financial statements. It concluded that the merger might deliver a $12 saving per person per year over the next 20 years. The costs, disruption and loss of democratic representation that would flow from a merger were not considered.
The 10 November reversal of the initial position of The Hills Shire Council against a full merger with the Hawkesbury has prevented The Hills Shire or Hawkesbury Council having the time for any meaningful consultation with their respective ratepayers. An online survey currently being conducted by Hawkesbury City Council has pointed to an overwhelming rejection of the merger proposal by Hawkesbury residents.
5. Council is actively engaged in the local government reform process and the implementation of the NSW Government’s Metropolitan Strategy.
Hawkesbury City Council is already working to deliver the productivity and efficiency outcomes expected under the Fit for the Future Reform framework. Council has formed a regional strategic alliance with the Blue Mountains and Penrith City Councils to reduce the cost of our services and achieve better outcomes and a stronger voice for our residents. The alliance will allow us to achieve the efficiencies that local government reform is seeking while maintaining our autonomy and identity.
The Alliance will also strengthen our collective ability to represent the unique mix of towns and villages and the rural and wilderness landscapes that we share with the Blue Mountains and Penrith and enable us to continue to sensitively manage the future growth and development of Sydney’s peri-urban fringe.
Aligning our future with the Blue Mountains and Penrith is consistent with the NSW Government’s Metropolitan Strategy which groups the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Penrith within the same planning sub region. The merger proposed by the Hills Shire Council is contrary to the intent of the Metropolitan Strategy. It carries the real risk that the interests of Hawkesbury ratepayers will be side-lined in a merged entity whose focus is likely to be on the development of the North West Growth Sector.
Consultation has concluded