This morning’s announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Local Government Minister Mark Coulton that local government will receive a $500 million economic stimulus package is tremendous news for councils, their elected officials and hard-working staff, and the communities they serve right around the country.
The package recognises what we have been saying throughout the coronavirus pandemic and even before when bushfires were burning through vast areas of south-eastern Australia – that local government is the ideal partner to, kickstart local economies, create new jobs at the grassroots level, and to deliver worthwhile community projects in the process.
Today’s package comprises a new $500 million Local Road and Community Infrastructure (LRCI) Program and long-waited confirmation that the eight-year-long practice of pulling forward Financial Assistance Grants will continue, ending the uncertainty associated with the Federal budget being delayed from May to October.
The pre-payment of $1.3 billion is equivalent to two quarters (50 per cent) of the 2020-21 FAG payments.
The $500 million LRCI Program represents the largest single injection of Covid-19 assistance for councils thus far – not to overlook the various stimulus measures and jobs support programs announced by state governments over the past month.
Earlier this week, for instance, the Queensland State Government announced a $200 million local government jobs support program.
Further south, the Victorian State Government said it was putting nearly $50 million towards shovel-ready infrastructure projects.
The NSW Government has announced the greatest range of support funding, ranging from council childcare support to showgrounds upgrade funding.
Ready-to-go projects will be the focus of the new LRCI Program, which will be administered along the lines of the successful Roads to Recovery program.
Funding can be provided quickly, and councils have the flexibility to deliver local priorities, maximising local job creation opportunities.
Eligible projects will be expanded to also include community infrastructure projects in addition to road projects.
Painting grandstands and refurbishing community facilities will stand alongside road safety improvements and stormwater upgrades as worthy projects – all able to employ different cohorts of locals thrust out of work during the Covid-19 restrictions.
We are confident the new LRCI program will be welcomed by local councils, as will confirmation of the continuation of the “pull-forward” of $1.3 billion of Financial Assistance Grants.
This combination of opportunity and funding certainty is exactly what councils need for their budget deliberations, underway right now, during these uncertain times.
Guidance for councils on eligible projects is yet to be publicly released, so keep a watch on the Federal Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications website where new information on the LCRI Program will be posted first.
Every council across the nation has shovel-ready projects and a list of road and building maintenance that could be accelerated immediately, and now is the time to refine your cases for how these can be funded under the LRCI Program.
So get your skates on, your nation needs you!