A new report reveals that Queensland councils are picking up the slack for services that fall under the responsibility of other levels of government or the private sector.

Research for the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has revealed councils are picking up a massive $360 million tab each year to deliver services that have fallen through the cracks of those who are responsible for funding them.

Local governments are being forced to step in without adequate funding to fill others’ gaps, as well as continuing to provide all of their own core council services to communities.

Councils are the lowest funded level of government, receiving just three cents in every dollar of tax raised in Australia. This is compared to around 80 cents that goes to the Federal Government and the rest that goes to the state governments.

The LGAQ’s research reveals councils have reached a tipping point.

LGAQ Chief Executive Officer, Alison Smith, said that the report found that the impact this cost shifting is having on councils, and communities, is staggering.

“For decades, state and federal governments have been asking councils to do more with less funding, and even letting councils become providers of last resort for critical community services with either low or no funding to do it.”  

Ms Smith said that In 2002, the financial impact of services shifted onto local councils over a 12-month period was estimated to be $47 million.

“Two decades on, this has increased by a whopping 378 per cent to reach $360 million a year.

“Communities cannot afford for this cost shift to continue. Funding cuts and cost shifts to councils are cuts to community liveability. Cost shifting to councils matters, because if it is allowed to continue it will be local communities who miss out,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Smith said 75 per cent of councils responded to the LGAQ cost shifting survey which has provided the first detailed snapshot of the extent of cost shifting in 20 years.

The survey revealed councils across the state are providing everything from health and morgue services to paying for CCTV, rebroadcasting free-to-air television, operating childcare, running bakeries, supermarkets, post offices and even school buildings, teacher housing and school holiday security officers – all without any extra funding, or adequate levels of funding to take on this service delivery.

Ms Smith said that local government cannot keep delivering more and more, without adequate funding to do so as the more they take on, the harder it is for them to deliver the core business of councils.

“Those core services such as swimming pools, libraries, parks, rubbish collection and local road pothole repairs all contribute to the liveability of Queensland communities.

“Every Queensland community deserves to be a liveable one. No one wants a tradeoff when it comes to liveability, councils are just calling for a financial fair go.”

The LGAQ report is calling for a recalibration.

Ms Smith said that the research shows the ledger needs to be rebalanced – councils either need more funding to keep providing the services that others are no longer doing, or a discussion needs to be had about how those services can be taken back and run by those whose responsibility it actually is.

“We look forward to discussing this research with Queenslanders, with the other tiers of government and with the private sector, because something has to give.

“Councils can’t continue to just keep doing more and more when they are the lowest funded level of government in the country.”

Ms Smith said communities expect a basic level of liveability.

“The character and diversity of Queensland’s local communities – from our big cities to our small towns – are in this state’s DNA. It’s what makes Queensland so great. But those communities need to be liveable ones.

“Cost shifting is happening in every sized community, as councils statewide are telling the same story. It matters because the core work of councils is about providing community liveability, and yet that will be put at risk if state or federal governments or the private sector continue to lump more work on local councils without adequate resourcing.”

Ms Smith said the last thing local government wants to see in Queensland – where the backbone of the economy is rooted in regional communities – is people moving away from their communities because of a lack of basic services.

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