Report highlights local government role in economic development

The Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology Sydney has released a report exploring the role of local government involvement in local and regional economic development strategies.

The report highlights the varying roles and levels of engagement that councils play in regards to leadership, organisation and delivery of local and regional economic development in Australia.

“The principle that economic development is a co-responsibility tends to be accepted by all tiers of governments and social and economic actors. However, how this translates into practice remains ambiguous and contested” Professor Lee Pugalis, co-author of the report says.

The promotion of economic development is a relatively recent feature of the activity of local government in Australia.

“There is huge diversity of economic development roles across the landscape of local government. For the majority of councils it remains an ‘additional’ rather than ‘general’ function, although this can often downplay their positive role in local and regional economic development” says Professor Roberta Ryan, Director of UTS CLG. “This research has brought to the forefront the importance of internal and external perceptions and how these shape the role of councils in economic development.”

Each tier of government is involved in promoting economic development, although in distinct ways that do not necessarily complement one another. The report’s findings support a strong case for advocating the involvement of all tiers of government in the pursuit of local and regional economic development.

The report concludes: “The lack of clarity on the role of local government in local and regional economic development is a serious issue. The framing of economic development vis-à-vis the role of councils is paramount. How councils view their role as economic development actors and how others (e.g. business, state government etc.) perceive the role of councils in promoting local and regional economic development is a crucial factor conditioning the actual roles performed by councils.

“A key finding is the mismatch between perceptions and reality. This is apparent when higher tiers of government perceive the role of councils in a generic sense, which neglects each council’s distinct capabilities, capacities and priorities. A more nuanced understanding of the role of councils in the mongrel policy field of economic development is required, which will require enhanced dialogue between different tiers of government and sectors of society.”

“The local government sector has an important role to play in promoting economic development, but one that evades a singular model. This poses a distinct challenge to higher tiers of government in terms of how they interface with specific councils as well as how councils interface with their stakeholders” says Professor Pugalis.

The report provides local governments and their stakeholders with research and evidence to help them to better understand regional and local economic development in Australia, and how it can be improved.

The report is available here

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