ConsultationLocal Government

Have your say: local government consultations

By 1 July 2023March 15th, 2024No Comments

Local Government Consultations

Community Consultation over your local Council’s Annual Budget

Eastsider News

The budget of any organisation is an action plan to translate its vision and mission statement into specific projects, programs, services, activities.  At the government level, only municipal councils are required by law to consult their community when developing their Council Plan and annual budget.

This obligation is set out in the the Victorian Local Government Act 2020 which states that all municipal councils are required to adopt and maintain a community engagement policy which amongst other things must be ‘… capable of being applied in relation to the Council’s budget and policy development’, and ‘… include deliberative engagement practices…’

Why is meaningful consultation important?

The Municipal Association of Victoria has stated that public consultation processes ‘…are an important opportunity for community members to voice their views about local priorities that their council should consider’. Consultation is essential to ensure visibility, transparency and accountability. Otherwise, we run the risk that sectional interests will exercise undue influence to the detriment of community interest.

Open and honest consultation will reveal there are many different ways to achieve the vision identified as part of a Community Plan. Each will lead to very different results. To be meaningful, consultation must take place sufficiently early to influence outcomes and include procedures that facilitate open and creative input. The use of surveys is a poor substitute for the use of more deliberative engagement techniques such as discussion papers and public meetings.

By March, the budget cycle will be progressed well beyond the completion of negotiations between competing interests. By this time, the basic structure of the budget is in place and costings for individual items are being finalised. This is much too late to have any effect on either the priorities or programmed expenditure.

The Boroondara approach

Prior to 2023, Boroondara would release a draft of it annual budget in February inviting residents to submit their comments before finalisation. It is likely the low level of community engagement at this stage reflected a feeling by many that no matter what they contribute, no substantial change would happen.

The draft Budget for 2023-24 was not made available until 24 May 2023, when the community was invited to submit comments up until 6 June 2023, prior to adoption on 19 June 2023. This change was justified by certain councillors on the grounds that the community had always shown little interest in the process and previous consultations had not generated anything of substance. Submitters were told that all submissions received would be considered as part of the development of the 2024-25 Budget.

No announcement has yet been made as to what opportunities the community will have to comment on the 2024-25 Budget. Can we expect that the approach used in 2023 will be followed for the upcoming budget and, if so, that any comments received will not be considered until the 2025-2026 Budget is being developed?