Thursday, 16 April 2020 17:54

President's message: Councils adapting to COVID-19

WSROC President Clr Barry Calvert WSROC President Clr Barry Calvert

Since the last e-news, our collective circumstances have radically altered. I hope that as you read this, you are adapting to the new situation and are availing yourself of the many supportive, transitionary resources that have emerged over the past weeks. WSROC has collated a repository of local government resources on our website, and you will find additional offerings in this e-news edition.


For local government, it is a complex time. We continue to support the status quo as far as possible, while new needs and pressures constantly emerge. While councils have been excluded from the federal JobKeeper and stimulus packages, it was pleasing to see the NSW Government release its own council-focused relief package in the last week including $112.5 million for staff retention, $250 million in low-interest T-Corp loans and another 12 month’s relief from Emergency Service Levy payments.


While this package is welcome, it by no means makes navigating this pandemic easy. Compliance with COVID-19 Public Health Orders, while critical, have impacted council operating budgets to the tune of millions of dollars per month. As many of us are still recovering from the impacts of drought, bushfires and floods, councils are now also grappling with unsustainable operational costs and facing down an infrastructure backlog.


Despite the difficulties, the critical role of local government in the community has never been more apparent. I have seen a number of outstanding responses to the challenges of this crisis.


In the community sector, libraries from Liverpool to Lithgow are increasing virtual content and home-library services for those with poor internet connection. Blacktown and Hawkesbury galleries have moved arts exhibitions, musical and kids craft online. I have also noted Cumberland and Blue Mountains’ efforts to improve community cohesion via Good Neighbour programs, and efforts by many leisure centres to provide exercise classes online.


Many councils have been assisting with the coordination of additional support for those sleeping rough, and other vulnerable groups in need of support for financial or self-isolation reasons. Coordinating local accommodation, flu-shots and meal delivery are just some examples. Many councils including Fairfield and Parramatta have redeployed staff to assist local charities such as Meals on Wheels as their regular volunteers, most over the age of 60, seek to self-isolate.


In the business sector, councils including Liverpool have been delivering additional training and webinars to assist local businesses thru the pandemic, while Shop Local campaigns and Parramatta’s Covid-19 Local Business Finder app is assisting the community support businesses in their local area. Others have reduced fees and licensing pressures for small business.


This is by no means a comprehensive list of the work being done, however as a whole, I am proud of the way local government going above and beyond to support its communities during this time.


Many of the people most impacted by the current Covid-19 epidemic are amongst our communities’ most vulnerable, including the elderly and refugees. Earlier this month, WSROC and Fairfield City Council met with NSW acting Minister for Multiculturalism, the Hon. Geoff Lee, to discuss how the federal and state governments can better support councils settling migrants arriving under humanitarian visas, particularly during the current pandemic.


The Minister acknowledged the significance of the part Western Sydney councils play in supporting the settlement of these new community members and has undertaken to following the matter up with his federal counterparts. We will keep our stakeholders apprised of developments in this important area of advocacy.


Our priorities continue, even in the face of a pandemic, and we adapt the means by which we navigate them. I am confident in our combined capacity to surface from this time with our aspiration for our region intact and a reinforced sense of the priorities and values we stand for as a collective.


Please keep us informed of any developments in your proximity.

 

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 01 May 2020 08:12