49 – Rate capping. Four workarounds we can expect to see.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          320 words


Image from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu

All the talk about rate capping and the impact on local government services has started me thinking about what happens every time there are legislated changes to the way councils operate. We find workarounds. Rather than putting our efforts into being better at providing the services that communities expect, we put our energy into workarounds to protect the status quo.

Workaround number 1. Service lives for assets will be pushed out unrealistically to reduce the annual depreciation cost. Instead of depreciating assets over 50 years they will be depreciated over 100 years, effectively halving the depreciation cost.

Workaround number 2. Staff numbers will be cut to make budget and agency staff and consultancy costs will rise significantly. A lower cost but permanent part of the workforce will be replaced with a much more expensive but temporary workforce. The over expenditure will be offset by workaround number 1.

Workaround number 3. Asset sales will be included in the budget. This will usually be land determined to be surplus to requirements (probably used as open space at the moment) or the vehicle fleet (which will then be leased). It is unlikely that the land will actually be sold and this will be explained in notes to the annual report as an unforseen problem. Never mind, put them in again next year. I worked at a council that successfully did this for a decade. Selling assets like the fleet will probably realise a loss but provide some short term cash while increasing long term costs.

Workaround number 4. CEO and Executive salaries will be frozen. No Consumer Price Index or ‘performance’ increases. This sounds fine and could be an example of leadership from the front to control wage increases across the organisation.  But keep an eye on their contract renewals. Typically this is where top management makes up for any lack of annual increase and the details are usually confidential.  No increases for several years and then a big increase on rehiring.