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Council Secrecy Extends Beyond Ratepayers to the Office of Local Government

by Patricia Gardiner, Deua River Valley

The Beagle Editor,

It appears that it is not only ratepayers being kept in the dark regarding the final updated Business Case and ongoing financial projections for the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre(BBRAALC).

Information has been gleaned through a Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request,

Prior to committing to a major capital project over $10 m (BBRAALC = $69 m), council was required to conduct a ‘Capital Expenditure Review’ and submit it to the Office of Local Government (OLG).

This enables the OLG to ensure that council has complied with OLG’s Capital Expenditure Guidelines The Guidelines aim to ensure that a council’s evaluation of the proposed capital expenditure is consistent and rigorous, the merits of projects can be compared and resource allocation can be made on an informed basis. It is important that the evaluation of the project is carried out in a clear, transparent and systematic way. The process of evaluation and reporting methods outlined in these Guidelines will enhance the transparency and rigour of capital expenditure project evaluation. The OLG’s Capital Expenditure Guidelines have been issued pursuant to section 23A of the Local Government Act 1993. As such, councils must consider these Guidelines before committing to capital projects. It should be noted that councils are expected to undertake the processes outlined in the Guidelines, irrespective of the funding sources of projects.

“The council must demonstrate that its decision to carry out the capital expenditure is based on sound strategic and financial planning, supported by valid data and research; and that it reflects the views, priorities and objectives of the broader community.”(Guidelines p. 3) When calculating future costs it is appropriate that project costs are indexed based on prudent and reasonable assumptions. These assumptions should be documented and able to be provided on request or provided as part of the project’s capital expenditure review. (Guidelines p. 13)

One of the main inclusions required by the Guidelines is a “comprehensive Business/Management Project Plan,” that outlines the costs and revenues, includes the business structure and objectives, the reasons the proposal will be successful and financial projections - both direct and indirect costs, capital and ongoing recurrent costs as well as expected costs once the project becomes operational. Yet ESC had the audacity to include the following cover letter (obtained through GIPA) with its Review documents, to the OLG:

------------------------------------------------------------- From: Stephen Phipps <Stephen.Phipps@esc.nsw.gov.au>

Sent: Monday, 23 March 2020 10:07 AM

To: olg@olg.nsw.gov.au

Cc: Catherine Dale; Lindsay Usher

Subject: For Performance Team - Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre project

Attachments: Risk Log 161018.xlsm; Comms Strategy V.03.docx; Project Plan OLG Version.docx; Project190320.pdf; Capital Expenditure Requirements Checklist FINAL.docx; BBRAALC Statement of Environmental Effects 011019.pdf


Good Morning,

Please find attached and referenced below the suite of documents to assist in the Capital Expenditure Review of the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre project being undertaken by the Eurobodalla Shire Council.

Other key documents are available at: https://www.esc.nsw.gov.au/inside‐council/project‐and‐exhibitions/majorprojects‐ and‐works/aquatic‐arts‐and‐leisure‐centre

Council has some documents, that if released to the public through a GIPA request, have the potential to severely impact our tender process. Given there is some uncertainty on what could be redacted should a GIPA request be sought through OLG, we have decided to not supply those documents that are directly related to our upcoming tenders.

The documents that have the potential to unduly impact our tenders are:

Quantity Surveyor estimates

 Updated business case

In addition, the funding sources identified by Council (contribution in addition to grant funding) can also be misconstrued if released in the public domain and could impact the building tender process. The documents that support this process are also being withheld.

Should the staff reviewing the project need to access these documents to complete the review we can discuss an arrangement that can hopefully satisfy both parties.

If you have any further questions please contact me.

Thanks

Project Coordinator Mackay Park

t 02 4474 1389 | m 0418 755 383| f 02 4474 1234

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Readers, It must be noted that under the GIPA Act, the fact that information may be “misconstrued” is not a reason for non disclosure.