Presentation: Jim Bright October 12th 2021
PUBLIC FORUM PRESENTATION
ESC MEETING – 12 OCTOBER 2021
BAY PAV FEES & CHARGES (CAR21/020)
My name is Jim Bright. I’m a resident of Narooma.
I’m making this presentation on behalf of the Labor Party’s Eurobodalla Local Government Committee. I’m the president of that committee.
During the consultation period, our committee made a submission to you regarding certain commitments that NSW councils have in order to apply the principle of competitive neutrality. This principle is part of Australia’s national competition policy that was agreed to by the Commonwealth and all State Governments in the 1990s. This policy covers the activities of our governments at all levels, including the activities of local government bodies such as councils.
In the case of the NSW local government sector, the adoption of this national policy resulted in the issuing of various detailed guidelines and instructions to councils in 1997. The two key documents for NSW councils were (and still 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.
The Staff Report relating to this particular agenda item seems to be suggesting, in reply to our submission, that the council’s competitive neutrality responsibilities are satisfied simply by producing fees and charges that are comparable with those of its private sector competitors. That is clearly incorrect.
The ‘Pricing & Costing’ document is long and quite complicated. However, in essence (and in very general terms), what that document requires the council to do is a thorough assessment of the costs associated with the provision of the activity (that is, the Pay gym), to then adjust that resulting cost figure to reflect the range of additional costs that a private sector competitor would incur in the way of taxes, mortgages, etc. and to then set the council fees at a level that would at least cover those costs.
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”.
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.
A final decision on this matter does not have to be taken by the councillors at today’s meeting. The two key OLG documents should immediately be provided to the local gym owners so that they can consider their rights and respond to the council.
Eurobodalla Local Government Committee
Australian Labor Party