Are you ready to Partner rather than follow?
Written by Dr Leonie J Pearson, Leader, Major Research Projects (Economist)
The new wave of government programs focused on partnering with local and state government has created opportunities for all areas. In this article we explore what these partnerships could mean for working relationships with federal government. The article was published in the Economic Development Quarterly and we thank Economic Development Australia for the chance to share this work with the wider audience.
This is an exciting time for economic development in Australia. Specifically, for our local governments that do the heavy lifting in getting ‘stuff done’ across the nation from Palm Island Aboriginal Council, Qld to the Shire of Denmark, WA and Hobart Tasmania. Why you ask?
The excitement is found in the new federal programs – because they are partnership programs and not the usual grant funding approach. These include the Regional Jobs and Investment Package and the City Deals Program. Combined, the Federal Government has committed in the first round of these initiatives $459 million (not including Western Sydney City Deal) with further investment promised into the future.
What’s the difference between grant and partnership programs?
Traditional grant programs are based on buyer to seller transactions, they are owned and delivered by federal and/ or state governments within priority areas, with performance measures already defined. These have little space to reflect local issues and priorities or changing circumstances over the lifetime of the grant.
In contrast, the new collaboration or partnership programs are owned by the partners, have collaboratively agreed outcomes, self-defined performance measures, though are still within federally and state defined priority areas. They are bespoke programs which can reflect local issues and priorities with shared effort throughout design and implementation. They are focused on long term goals and outcomes. Some examples of these in action are the new City Deals which have recently had Federal and State government Memorandum of Understandings signed on how collaboration should work[i]
The differences between the two types of programs are important, as the new partnership approach offers local government the opportunity to be a partner at the negotiating table. Partnerships deliver a more equal relationship across all governments, rather than local areas continuously being a buyer of different state and federal grants. It is fundamentally a redefining of powers between the three levels of government[ii].
This new partnership approach is able to better reflect local issues and long term working arrangements, and allows those local areas that are ready and willing to step up and partner the chance to do so. A summary of the differences between grants and partnerships is in the table below.
Intent is right – but the devil is in the detail
Partnerships have been heralded as the new approach for the Federal Government. While it is too early to gauge outcomes, a quick look at two new initiatives can show current progress. On 9 December 2016 the first City Deal in Townsville was announced. This Deal is touted as having strong collaboration and explicitly outlines input from all three levels of government, reflecting hard negotiations which have been undertaken in good faith and have come to a solid resolution. While still early, this is a great start to collaborative City Deals. Let us wait until March, 2017 for the detailed City Deal implementation plan to see how the real power sharing is going on and how success is gauged.
The second example is the Regional Jobs and Investment Package with the aim, to help regions diversify their economies, stimulate long-term economic growth and deliver sustainable employment. Further information on this package will be released in 2017, but the essence is to create a community-driven, government investment partnership between the local communities, business and the Australian Government. This partnership approach creating space for local and state government and partners to work with federal government in delivering a localised solution.
Partnership requires courage
This phase of economic development in Australia, shows signs of a real voice for local issues and a sharing of power and responsibility across all levels of government. Partnership programs also start to respond to the best practice advice from the OECD which prioritises both collaboration and local empowerment in the quest for robust outcomes[i].
However, partnering needs courage, to embrace this opportunity and make it work for all partners – is your local government ready to be a player at the negotiating table? Are Federal Government departments able to share risks and benefits? Can we redefine our funding to focus on outcomes, rather than products and process? Can programs be varied and coordinated to suit the particular needs of a place at a particular time? How can each level of government maintain the probity and accountability standards required while still demonstrating a capacity for genuine collaboration and the flexibility that it entails?
The opportunities are enormous for all local government practitioners to step up and take a lead role in delivering a partnership approach. However, in partnering, all players lose some control, share risk and have non-priority outcomes to deliver. So the question is are you ready to partner, rather than just follow grant guidelines?
[i] See Pike, A., Rodríguez-Pose, A. and Tomaney, J. eds., 2010. Handbook of local and regional development. Routledge. For a review of the changing face of economic development and the need to reflect more local issues
[i] Copies of MOU’s for Queensland Tasmania and New South Wales are at https://cities.dpmc.gov.au/townsville-city-deal. Townville is the only City Deal announced to date (Friday 9 December) details can be found on the website as well.
[ii] These ideas are outlined in Eversole, R. and J. Martin. 2005. Participation and governance in regional development: global trends in an Australian context. Aldershot: Ashgate and explored in Lange, P., P.P. Driessen, A. Sauer, B. Bornemannand P. Burger. 2013. Governing towards sustainability—Conceptualizing modes of governance. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning 15(3): 403-425.