Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Local government mergers and the future of libraries in Western Australia

Funding challenges in WA compounded by fears of what local government mergers could mean for libraries in the state

Public library managers in Western Australia are working flat out to put together a business case for an alternative funding model, to replace the one that has been in operation since 1954. Until the new funding agreement has been signed off, the State Government has capped its contribution to the annual library budget at $6.5 million. There had been a further $10 million in top-up funding spread over the previous four years.

A library manager told ALN, ‘A report was prepared for the joint advisory committee on libraries a couple of years ago and it made 111 recommendations. Because of all the changes, we’re about 12 months behind where we thought we would be, but there are lots of working groups tackling the top 10 recommendations and the big one is the funding model.’

If the new funding model is finished in time, there is a chance that the State Government could be persuaded to grant additional cash in years two and three of the current three-year plan.

At the start of the year, there was nervousness about what local government amalgamation in WA might mean for public libraries, and the situation has not improved. Our source said, ‘There is still a great deal of uncertainty around amalgamation'.

In February this year the minister for local government announced the Liberal-National government package of local government reform strategies. The principle strategies in the package focus on voluntary structural reform of local government.

Specifically, the strategies encourage local government to take steps voluntarily to amalgamate and form larger local governments to reduce the total number of elected members to between six and nine, and for local governments to form appropriate regional groupings of councils to assist with the efficient delivery of services.

‘Local government was invited to submit proposals to a steering committee by the end of September 2009. The steering committee is due to submit a report to the minister for local government next month [December2009]. There is still a great deal of uncertainty, particularly for the regional areas, as to whether there will be mandatory amalgamations, with little information, apart from speculation, being forthcoming.’

Source: Australian Library News 19 November 2009

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