A WAR of words has erupted between Queanbeyan mayor Tim Overall and mayoral hopeful Jamie Cregan after Cr Overall this week labelled Cregan Independents central policy platform “reckless and irresponsible.”
The Cregan Independents, led by Business Council President Jamie Cregan, has promised to corporatise Queanbeyan City Council if elected, introducing business structures and protocols to Council management. Mr Cregan has also pledged to open a private works arm of Council which he says will reduce Council’s use of private contractors and create revenue out of everyday Council works.
Cr Overall said the plan didn’t add up.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that this proposal could benefit this Council, potentially the exact opposite and bankrupt it,” he said.
“In my 25 years in corporate management and on corporate and public sector boards, I have seen many other organisations fall into financial difficulty and even bankruptcy for embarking on business ventures outside of their core business and expertise.”
“There are a number of Councils who have sought to corporatise which has resulted in those Councils losing millions of dollars of ratepayer funds.”
Mayor Overall also called upon Mr Cregan to explain how he would fund the set-up costs for his plans.
“Where will he get $2-3 million [needed] to set up this business, and under such a proposal, if Council did not win a tender in an extremely competitive environment, how could it be expected to fund the $50,000 - $60,000 weekly costs of that business and the potential hefty losses that could realistically result?
“More to the point, why should Council be competing in the private sector and taking contract work from those hardworking contractors in the ACT-Queanbeyan region?
“Equally, at a time when all businesses need to be fiscally responsible, why would Council employ greater numbers of staff who may or may not have any private contract work which would allow them to be gainfully employed?”
However Mr Cregan insisted a corporate arm of council was viable, and would take some financial pressure off ratepayers.
“The residents of Queanbeyan will never say making council more efficient, more productive, more capable, delivering jobs and reducing the bureaucracy is irresponsible and reckless,” he said.
“Cr Overall’s claim that it will be expensive is outrageous- business makes money and you set up with a works schedule that is predetermined in advance as far as council works is concerned. This is called planning for the future and making every dollar count.
“Creating a business arm will deliver local jobs, will benefit local business with the money more likely to be spent here, The council will not have reliance on out of town contractors like Hansen Yuncken, so will not have to call underground services “complexities.”
“We will maintain control of sites and listen to the community and the business community to ensure we truly consult rather than just inform,” Mr Cregan said.
The two men also argued over the role and performance of Council staff. Cr Overall said Mr Cregan was showing disrespect to staff by suggesting many council functions could be performed cheaper.
“There is an underlying inference that current Council staff are largely unskilled. This is insulting to staff because in many cases they are experts in their chosen field, have many years of experience and provide excellent service every day for the Queanbeyan Community.
“For those who have had limited involvement – if any – with Council, it is difficult to see how they feel they can become experts overnight in the management of not only a major public sector organisation but also the largest employer in south-east NSW,” Cr Overall said.
But Mr Cregan said he was concerned with addressing a perceived structural problem in Queanbeyan City Council rather than a staffing problem.
“I believe Cr Overall when he says that council staff could not do the work any cheaper at the moment given how council is managed with bureaucratic process and lacking business practices,” he said.
“This is not a criticism of the council staff that are actually performing, as they don’t have a say in management,” he said.
Queanbeyan City Council elections will be held on Saturday, September 8.