Improving Communities Through Agile Local Government

Part of the Local Government National Insights Series

Mark Crawley
Chief Executive Officer,
Carpentaria Shire Council (QLD)

Government Keynote: Transforming Local Customer Experience Through an Agile and Flexible Environment

The pressures of being a remote council

Overall, their area was only mildly affected by the pandemic, but given where they are located, “locals are used to isolation and dealing with prolonged periods of loss of power.” The saying goes that “if you move to the Gulf, bring a generator.” When there is a storm, flooding or other crises, it is not uncommon for some communities to be “cut off for 10 to 14 days, but food and supplies are always available.” Partly this is because Council is responsible for supplies. There is a network of “1,662km of local roads but only 107km of these are sealed roads.” The vast majority are unsealed, but Council maintains them and keeps them clear. Council also “becomes the provider of last choice,” and therefore provides services like “childcare, satellite television and housing, to name a few.” There is a Council “workforce of just over 100 FTE,” with the majority “being our open space employees.” Council also contracts many other labourers and other staff as required.

Turning concepts into actionable projects

For many years, Council has known that there are some maintenance projects that need to be carried out around the shire, as well as various upgrades. But, like many other remote councils, “we lost track of a lot of those projects over the years due to the changing of critical staff and some of our elected members.” Nonetheless, it was clear that some work had to be done, so “we set about getting all the information from people’s heads and out of the bottom drawer.” Every project was then added to a single spreadsheet and then “we categorised these into concept, pre-feasibility, feasibility, planning and construction.” They were also categorised into new or existing infrastructure, or tourism-related projects. All of these categories were “in line with the Queensland Treasury Corporation Project Decision Framework,” which was designed to assist councils in ensuring their projects were costed and prepared as business cases. The spreadsheet however was not quite sufficient, and it was “a big task for a small, under-resourced council to get all of our projects into this framework.” Council also worked with a consultancy “to take our simple spreadsheet to the next level.” They developed a “project assurance matrix,” put it into their software program and thus “took our spreadsheet and put it into a single system with greater oversight, which included modules for grant process approval, project and risk management, delivery and acquittal.” The next stage, with a pipeline of projects ready to go, was to access funding. The initial funding came from the state government’s ‘Maturing the Infrastructure Pipeline Program’ (MIPP), [1] which had a specific stream “for local government in Queensland.” Unfortunately though this funding was discontinued. Other projects were funded through the ‘Building our Regions’ program, [2] though this didn’t have a specific stream for local government, making it hard for “smaller, under-resourced councils in Queensland, like ours, to apply.” Overall, there is a funding issue for local government, and “prior to MIPP for instance, many councils were submitting applications for funding through the major funding rounds without the detailed costings and costs for the projects being proposed, often leaving councils with shortfalls in overall project delivery costs.” A new program called ‘Works for Queensland’ [3] was then established, “which is untied and paid to local government to address the infrastructure needs.”

At Carpentaria Shire they have been using all of these state funds “to concentrate on upgrading and renewing our aging infrastructure, thus adding to the useful life of our assets and reducing our depreciation expenses.” Since the start of the pandemic, the Council has also had access to the federal ‘Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program’ [ 4 ] “to provide necessary economic stimulus locally through job creation. It is now in its third phase and hopefully it will continue for many years.”

For remote councils, all of these programs and funds are critical, but to ensure councils get the most out of them, “we have had to be able to manage the current service delivery and ensure that projects are completed on time and within the budgets allocated.” During the pandemic and even before, the funding “has assisted with job creation and economic stimulus,” and this has meant that the shire was able to have “upgraded infrastructure for our communities.”

“Without this funding directly to local government, many of these projects would not have seen the light of day and would not have been undertaken for many years to come if we had to rely on our own source revenue. So we thank the various tiers of government for this funding.”

Mark Crawley, Chief Executive Officer, Carpentaria Shire Council (Qld)

The projects were also able to see the light of day because Council decided they needed to become more professional when it comes to “project management and contract management.” For years Council has been developing and maintaining roads, so now they “captured this knowledge with the development of a capability statement for the rest of our works crew.” In fact, together with the Department of Transport and Main Roads (Qld), they completed three ISO-registered quality standards. “Council is now one of only eight in Queensland with this prequalification. We also went on to become certified by the Australian Government under the Federal Building and Construction, Workplace Health and Safety Accreditation Scheme, again one of very few councils in Queensland to receive the certification.”

Having looked after their roads and other projects in their pipeline, they then moved on to the coastline. Unlike their roads, “we have not always looked after our coastline as we could have,” largely because the roads were always seen as a higher priority and because they didn’t have the expertise. In the last year or so however, “it has become a must-do and bit of a priority.” The Karumba village for example will “celebrate their 150 th birthday in 2023,” but one of the two main parts of the town “has been eroding for many years due to cyclones, storms and tidal surges.” Locals have attempted to fix the erosion with short-term haphazard solutions, but “a longer term solution was needed.” So through specific funding and planning under a coastal hazard strategy, they have been able to “protect and manage the foreshore for the community into the future.”

The funding also allowed them to leverage other grants to stop the erosion from occurring in the first place. On top of that, having worked with consultants, they have been able to partner with others to “upskill our staff to continue with a more professional approach, and to ensure that that approach stays with us for many years to come.” Though there is still more to do, with their matrix of projects, their new working approach and the right tools, “we can deliver and manage those projects for our community – the community that we serve. It’s a good feeling for the staff too, when a job is done well.”

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