Key considerations

This section outlines key considerations and steps required of senior leaders and those tasked with managing the amalgamation process. Reviewing this section will help ensure the myriad of considerations and tasks comprising the process are adequately accounted for during the transition stages.

Governance

A critical first step is to establish a management framework and responsibility for the amalgamation process. The exact form of this leadership will vary for councils depending on their circumstances and preferences. In some jurisdictions, State governments have specified legislated roles to manage and report on the amalgamation process. It is possible that the NSW Government will specify required governance as part of the proclamation.

Based on the experiences of past reform and national best practice, LGNSW recommends that as a broad approach, the amalgamation be assigned a leadership team who is responsible for coordinating and monitoring the overall process, supported by a series of specialist working groups and tools to professionally manage the project management component . There are a variety of resources in the 'Managing the Amalgamation' section of the Resource list to assist the leadership team in establishing a project management framework/plan.

This leadership team, or Local Transition Committee, would comprise representatives from the amalgamating councils and oversees the planning and implementation of reform prior to the new council being established. A key output of this group would be the preparation of a Transition Action Plan. The leadership attributes required of this group are special, and careful consideration needs to be given to assembling the right mix of skills and personalities to create a leadership team appropriate to the challenge. Further detail of the features and role of the Local Transition Committee is contained in the Workplace Reform Kit (PDF, 1.4MB) available on the Resources page. There is also useful information about the functions of a transition committee in the NSW Government’s Preparing for Change: Guidance for Councils document which was released in March 2016.

The establishment of working groups, or project teams, will ensure that the critical thinking and analysis required takes place for specialist areas; can inform decision making and resource allocation; and will critically input into due diligence processes. In selecting appropriate working group members, consider necessary expertise as well as representation from all of the amalgamating councils.

LGNSW recommends that the governance framework be objectively revisited and revised often in light of progress, emerging needs and the preferences of the amalgamating councils.

Interim organisational structure

In some jurisdictions where amalgamations have taken place, the relevant state government has specified interim structures and transitional management arrangements. The NSW government is yet to provide guidance of this nature, however the Toolkit will be updated should this become available. See Interim Organisational Structures - Considerations (PDF, 332KB) for guidance.

Leading and managing change

An amalgamation can offer a unique opportunity for all concerned to implement, in partnership with the community, a new and exciting modernising agenda. The early years after the merger are a time for the ‘brand new’ organisation to establish its own reputation and shape its future. The council can set goals that look into the future to establish new agendas for community wellbeing and prosperity, and those goals need to be reflected in the organisation structure and workforce arrangements.

Throughout this journey, there is a huge challenge for the leadership team to celebrate the history and achievements of the former councils, whilst at the same time taking positive steps to establish the image and presence of the new organisation. This can only be done by first confronting the reality of change that has occurred, then setting high aspirations for the future and winning the support of all concerned for that vision, and finally putting in place the plans, policies and structures to make the required journey.

At the same time, the council will be under intense pressure to get organised and to start producing results. The NSW Government and the community will expect service continuity throughout the merger process and will be keen to see councils taking advantage of any opportunities offered by the amalgamation to improve services and efficiency.

Therefore, the leadership team must cope with the immediate complexity and demands of an enormous range of issues through thoughtful planning, effective communication, encouragement and persuasion, skilful organising and smart problem-solving. It is essential that they adopt a nurturing but receptive approach; identify and manage cultural differences between former councils; establish credibility by demonstrating expertise, trustworthiness and productivity; and be persuasive through leading by example, being frank, communicating often and being patient.

LGNSW’s Workplace Reform Kit (PDF, 1.4MB) provides valuable guidance for leading change. Other resources can also be found on the Resources page.

Commencement Day

Much of the guidance provided in this Toolkit aims to prepare amalgamating councils for Commencement Day (legal day 1 of the new entity) and the period immediately following, however some specific guidance is provided below for the management of the day in particular. The Toolkit was developed on the assumption there would be a period of review and planning before commencement of the new council. However, in the event that new councils will be operating from Proclamation Day i.e. the day of announcement of the merging councils, the steps described are still relevant. This means that much of the work initially aimed at preparing for Commencement Day will likely occur after the new entity is already in place. However, for those councils which have started to work together on preparation for merging, ideally they will have considered the critical factors to address prior to the day of commencement of the new council. Some specific guidance is provided below for the management of the day in particular. See the Day 1: Commencement Day Checklist (PDF, 255KB) for guidance on tasks that should be completed when the new enitity commences.

The Toolkit will be updated as more information about commencement dates becomes available.

Business Systems

The three things that will be critical to a smooth transition will be the need to:

1. Determine the software platform (integrated business software system). However, it is likely that councils will need to continue to maintain their own systems for a while after Commencement Day.

2. Establish how Council will communicate (data capability) with remote sites. This is particularly relevant for rural councils where communications infrastructure is poor.

3. Ensure that a good records management system is implemented. Again some smaller rural councils may not have an electronic document management system. The ability to find documents easily across council systems will be critical - there are software providers who do this specifically and can assist.

Communications

Effective communication is a must and is even more important in intense periods of change, such as amalgamations. Consideration of both internal and external communications during the amalgamation process is imperative for leaders:

  • Ongoing internal communication is critical to ensuring employee wellbeing, promoting a healthy workplace culture and managing change effectively. Not only should employees have access to accurate and timely information, they also need to feel comfortable asking questions and providing feedback at any stage, knowing that their input will be taken into account. Throughout the amalgamation process, leaders need to ensure messages are consistent, timely and tailored to the needs of the many different stakeholders, and accessible through a wide range of communication methods for each audience.
  • Externally, effective and timely communications are vital during times of change. Besides ensuring people have access to information that is current, clear and accurate, quality communication will also encourage people to contribute to the process and have a say in what affects them. A range of people outside the new entity may be affected and interested during the transition process, including ratepayers, volunteers, employees’ families, suppliers, contractors and the media. The audience is broad and effective communications will ensure that all stakeholders are well informed and have the opportunity to contribute.

Many councils may also have commenced community and stakeholder consultation during earlier stages of the Fit for the Future process. As councils progress through the transition stages, different levels of community involvement will be required and thoughtful consideration should be given to this throughout the process. More guidance on planning for the future consultation needs of the new council, including continued engagement of consultative committees and interest groups, is provided in the Guidance for Functional Project Teams: Communication section of this toolkit. Communication and engagement plans, whether developed together or separately, should be monitored closely and updated frequently.

Checklists outlining key points for consideration in undertaking internal (PDF, 100KB) and external (PDF, 163KB) communications can be found on the Resources page. There is useful information about communication and engagement in the NSW Government’s Preparing for Change: Guidance for Councils document which is located on the Council Boundary website.

Due diligence

To minimise exposure to risk and interruption to service delivery, critical analysis of the operations of the amalgamating (or adjusting) councils needs to be undertaken. Due diligence analysis can guide future decision making in regard to the interim organisational and staffing structure, operational plan, capital works and infrastructure, interim service delivery model, risk and business planning. It should also consider reform costs, risk management and audits of policy and legislation. Key tasks for these areas are detailed for leaders’ consideration under Priority Actions below.

Due diligence should include consideration of the current state of a range of specialist functions (e.g. assets, policies and legislation, communications, service delivery, human resources and industrial relations and so on) and a review of workforce resources and the shape of both councils (see the Due Diligence checklist (PDF, 209KB) and 'Leading and Managing Workplace Change' section of the Resources list).

Working groups that may be established for many of these areas can helpfully input into due diligence exercises and leaders should consult with working groups accordingly.

Workplace management

A responsive and cooperative approach to workforce and workplace management is essential at all times, but becomes all-important during an amalgamation. Past experience of both forced and voluntary amalgamations and boundary changes shows that managing the workforce and workplace issues is one of the most significant challenges to be faced. For many communities, local government is a very important employer, and councils rely on a high quality workforce to undertake their vital roles in service delivery, planning and regulation.

The disruption associated with structural reform can all too easily generate widespread concerns about potential redundancies, reduced local employment and commensurate cuts to services. These risks have been minimised by protective employment legislation, a flexible award and established industrial practices, but considerable expertise is required to use those measures to best effect. In addition, managing and supporting the merging of different cultures and norms will be a key focus and will require strong leadership and meaningful engagement with employees. Productive partnerships with unions will support this.

LGNSW has developed a specific workplace reform kit (the Local Government Workplace Reform Kit: Managing Workplace Change (PDF, 1.4MB) which offers detailed and practical guidance on working through workplace change resulting from boundary changes or amalgamations that require staff to transfer from one council to another, or to a newly created council. It is based on both the legislative framework and the lessons learned by councils that have experienced substantial structural reform.

Each of the former councils’ Workforce Management Plans will provide key sources of information for the new entities workforce planning.

Other resources can also be found on the Resources page.