Coming under intense criticism the Eurobodalla Council has decided to remove the proposed $2.50 spectator fee that was to be applied to parents, grandparents, friends and visitors attending the new 25 metre pool in Batemans Bay. The draft fees and charges were placed on public exhibition with numerous submissions coming back causing the council to have a rethink of what they intend to charge. At the council meeting on Tuesday 12 October 2021, Council voted to:
1. Adopt the schedule of fees with the following amendments:
(a) remove spectator fee
(b) add new concessional rate for Older Adults/Pilates/Yoga/Wellness Class at $12
(c) reduce concessional rate for Group Exercise Class (casual visit) from $13 to $12
(d) allow for marketing periods of a no joining fee and free membership trial
(e) increase adult rate for Older Adults/Pilates/Yoga/Wellness Class from $12 to $15 It is understood that there was considerable backroom discussion, led with the sage advice and wide experience of Lindsay Brown who had once owned a gymnasium in Narooma in the 1990's. Maureen Nathan, a councillor with a surprising wealth of experience in theme park management is understood to have offered input as well to these backroom discussions. The new gymnasium fees have become controversial in that they are observed to be undercutting local private gym owners. The two key documents that NSW councils must consider when providing a facility are the ‘Pricing & Costing for Council Businesses – A Guide to Competitive Neutrality’ and ‘Guidelines on the Management of Competitive Neutrality Complaints’. Both of those documents were issued to our councils by the (then) Department of Local Government (now OLG) and, as advised on the NSW Treasury website, are still the relevant ‘operative’ documents for councils in 2021. This is the process that, under the national competition policy, is needed to satisfy “the principle .. that government businesses should operate without net competitive advantages over other businesses as a result of their public ownership”.
Jim Bright, in his presentation to Councillors said"
"There is absolutely no evidence, in the two relevant Staff Reports (or elsewhere), to suggest that any such process (as spelt out in the Pricing & Costing guidelines) has been undertaken by this council. There is also no evidence to suggest that the councillors have been made aware of the existence of these guidelines.
"The other serious deficiency, in what appears to have occurred, is the failure of the council to have brought the attention of the private sector competitors (i) to their right to formally complain to the ESC about any associated issues, (ii) to have their complaint responded to within a specified period and, (iii) if not satisfied with the response, to then take their complaint to OLG. These requirements are spelt out in OLG’s ‘Guidelines on the Management of Competitive Neutrality Complaints’.
"These are clearly major failures on the part of the ESC in respect of its responsibilities to the community – particularly given the serious potential repercussions for some local business operators." Tracy Innes of One Life Gym, Batemans Bay presented during the Public Forum session leading up to the Council meeting of the day:
In her presentation to the Council Ms Innes submitted
With two very strong, and quite concerning presentations during Public Access it was surprising that there was little mention made of the above serious matters raised in regards to the rules of Competitive Neutrality during Council debate, or any action that might warrant Council staff reporting on the points made in regards to unfair competition and the failure to communicate the rights of challenge to local businesses impacted by the Council gym. NSW Treasury document POLICY STATEMENT ON THE APPLICATION OF COMPETITIVE NEUTRALITY (see section 4.3 on page 18) makes it clear that the complaint process can only be invoked by an "actual or potential competitor".