Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) has been named this year’s most progressive and innovative metropolitan or regional council in NSW, winning an award that dates back to the end of World War II.
QPRC won the AR Bluett Memorial Award, the state’s oldest and most prestigious local government award, at the Local Government NSW (LGNSW) annual conference this week.
The award recognises recent achievements and completed projects councils have embarked on this year.
Established in 1945, the award commemorates Alfred Robert Bluett, who served 30 years as the secretary and solicitor for the Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW. As an authority on local government law, Mr Bluett was instrumental in drafting the state’s first Local Government Act in 1919.
AR Bluett Award Trustee chair Les McMahon said the Trust received an all-time high 20 applications for this year’s awards.
“Each applicant was deserving of on an award, but ultimately only two councils can be named winners – a metropolitan/regional and a rural council,” he said.
“Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council has undertaken a remarkable transformation journey since the amalgamation of the two councils in 2016. They have ensured a steady process of the merger and anticipate a savings of $13 million during the next 10 years.”
The award comes as some amalgamated councils, particularly in the Sydney region, were hemorrhaging money on overspending and mismanagement of questionable projects.
Figures from Sydney consulting agency LSI revealed that of NSW’s 128 councils, eight of the 10 worst performing were merged councils, with five Sydney councils more than $100 million in the red since the forced mergers in 2016.
However, QPRC has largely bucked that trend, with its 2020 financial statement showing a $78 million surplus in its net operating result, although, before grants and contributions for capital works, the surplus is reduced to a deficit of $4.8 million.
QPRC Mayor Tim Overall said the award included scrutiny of its financial records and plans and to win was very exciting news.
“To win an award of this standing within local government, you need a council that demonstrates teamwork from top to bottom and across the whole organisation,” he said.
“What’s been achieved since the 2016 merger in terms of projects, planning, digital transformation and service delivery has really been quite amazing.”
Trustees of the award visited the QPRC local government area where they received presentations, toured projects and validated council’s financial statements and long-term financial plan.
“The assessment and judging process is quite rigorous, and on behalf of councillors I congratulate all QPRC staff on their amazing efforts,” said Mayor Overall.
Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council was selected as the 2020 metropolitan/regional winner, while Bellingen Shire Council, on the NSW mid-north coast, took out the rural category.
LGNSW president Linda Scott said the award recognises a standard of excellence and innovation that should be the goal of all public service in all spheres of government.
“On behalf of LGNSW, I congratulate the elected representatives, general managers, council staff and communities of Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council and Bellingen Shire Council on these well-deserved awards,” she said.
“Bellingen Shire Council is responsible for 1600 square kilometres of land, 57 per cent of which is non-rateable, and a relatively small population of 13,000 people. Yet it has delivered on its promises for improved infrastructure and services and has a sound financial budget.”
Ms Scott also noted the high standard of entries across the board and commended each council that had submitted an entry.
“Trustees of the AR Bluett Awards always face a daunting task choosing from such high-quality entries,” she said. “This year’s winners exemplify the outstanding and often unheralded contributions councils make to their communities on a daily basis across NSW.”