MidCoast Council's office centralisation's impact on Gloucester

Questions are raised about what centralisation means for the future of the Gloucester office and staff.
Questions are raised about what centralisation means for the future of the Gloucester office and staff.

“Loss of self-of-place.”

That’s how former mayor of the former Gloucester Shire Council, John Rosenbaum describes MidCoast Council’s centralisation project. 

He believes members of the community will feel they are losing their identity.

Council’s proposal to consolidate its Taree and Forster office into one location has been causing quite a stir across the region, with some residents, and even a few councillors, feeling their opinion does not matter.

“Councillors are elected to represent the community,” John said, “And they aren’t listening.”

The problem for John with the centralisation project is the lack of information and the lack of community consultation. He has concerns about what the project means for the Gloucester community – the workers and the residents – and the town’s economic future.

“All three former mayors (Rosenbaum, Jan McWilliams and Paul Hogan) are opposed to this model.”

John was among members of the community who spoke out against the project at council’s ordinary meeting on February 6 in its Forster chambers. The meeting followed a public protest which saw more than 400 people voice their opinion against the project, including Paul Hogan, who described the plan as flawed and lacking in transparency.

Members of the community pack the gallery at MidCoast Council's ordinary meeting at the Forster chambers on February 6.

Members of the community pack the gallery at MidCoast Council's ordinary meeting at the Forster chambers on February 6.

When asked about Gloucester office’s future, a spokesperson for council said “at some point in the future we may look to downsize the office space as the current building is much larger than required.”

However, it was highlighted that any decision on the office space at Gloucester is not related to the proposal to centralise to Biripi Way, Taree.

Gloucester’s office staff have been being slowly disappearing since the forced amalgamation in 2016. There are currently approximately 19 staff members working from the Gloucester office, a number which has decreased by 10 since the merger. According to council, these positions have been “balanced by an increase in outdoor staff,” keeping inline with the Local Government Act (section 218CA), which requires council to maintain a set number of staff at Gloucester, ‘as far as reasonably practical’.

“As vacancies arise they are reviewed to see if the community would be better served by a more operational position, such as a depot staff position,” council’s spokesperson said.

MidCoast Council residents, Leona Matthews-Whitehouse, Cynthea Felton and Waney Shaw at the centralisation protest.

MidCoast Council residents, Leona Matthews-Whitehouse, Cynthea Felton and Waney Shaw at the centralisation protest.

At the February meeting, council was due to vote on whether or not to proceed with the centralisation project, and after a lengthy debate, lasting three hours, councillors agreed to commission a new cost benefit analysis to assess the latest costs and benefits associated with the purchase and fit-out of the old Masters building, for use as a single site administrative office for MidCoast Council, compared to the campus model.

It’s a decision that has pleased John, as he wants to know all the options and the full cost to the community, social and economical, if the project proceeds. 

Council staff are now working to implement the outcome of the meeting and put in place the actions outlined in the resolution. This will include undertaking council’s normal procurement processes to appoint an independent third party expert to commission the new cost benefit analysis.

It is anticipated this report will go back to councillors for consideration in April.