LORD Mayor Jeff McCloy wants to trim Newcastle City Council staff and open up tenders to private enterprise, saying ‘‘bizarre’’ procedures have stunted growth in the city.
In a blunt and at times blistering appraisal of his first two months in office, the businessman turned civic leader also called for the fast-tracking of both the removal of the rail line and the revitalisation of the city centre.
‘‘The catalyst for change in Newcastle should be the rail line – it’s not a rail line as such that it’s for transport, it is ruining the city,’’ he said at the Callaghan Institute’s economic update breakfast seminar yesterday.
Cr McCloy said he expected the state government to decide on the rail line within weeks.
‘‘If this rail line does go there is an enormous amount of business built up that will move forward.
‘‘There will be confidence with GPT and Landcom to move forward, there will be more confidence in our businesses and other development businesses to move forward.’’
The Lord Mayor said the removal of the rail line would generate employment and revitalise Hunter Street, a project to which he estimated the council could contribute up to $8million.
‘‘[Hunter Street] was marked highest on the priority list in many surveys of the people of Newcastle of what to do, it was agreed to fast-track that in 2010 and not one thing has been done since,’’ he said.
Promising to call a meeting of interested parties to ‘‘actually physically start on something’’, he said freshening up the beleaguered retail strip could be as easy as asking property owners to paint their premises, fixing the footpath, putting in seats and planting trees.
‘‘I mean it’s not difficult,’’ he said. ‘‘There are about seven decisions to make.’’
Admitting the council is a ‘‘culture shock’’ for him, Cr McCloy praised some ‘‘good ideas’’ in the council but questioned some procedures, including enterprise bargaining agreements negotiations.
‘‘The new EBA is coming out [and] council staff wrote a letter to all employees and said, ‘Come into this room and tell us what you want’. That is the most bizarre way to run an EBA or to change an EBA that I have ever seen,’’ he said.
Citing the council’s $20million deficit, Cr McCloy said he believed there was no method of measurement to understand what value was being delivered to ratepayers and ‘‘every job’’ should be allowed to go to private enterprise for tender.
‘‘Some jobs you can’t do that because of the risk nature of services and that is right, but the majority of projects should be tendered and measured against our own productivity in council so we have an understanding whether we are doing this efficiently or not,’’ he said.
Mr McCloy said overheads at council headquarters had to be considered.
He highlighted the fact that 35 staff worked in human resources and the same number again in IT – numbers he said were considerably more than large Hunter corporates including the Wests Group and Greater Building Society.
‘‘It’s my personal view that we need to trim the size of the council itself and go with tender and get a subcontractor and let the market place do as much of the physical work as we can and we will get enormous efficiency gains,’’ he said.
‘‘For us to even think we can manage an organisation with 1400 people when we don’t have to, when we can harness the energy of good private enterprise out there – that’s what we should be doing.’’
Cr McCloy said the Novocastrian delegation, including Newcastle MP Tim Owen, to Yantai last month had been ‘‘eye-opening’’, with the Chinese city using mini site models to educate the public about projects to fast-track applications.
‘‘[The models] are a great tool and we should use them here to deliver to the people of Newcastle what change can bring,’’ he said, adding he received daily complaints over slow-moving DA approvals. ‘‘Here we have an argument over every square metre of dirt and every block of land.
‘‘Common sense has gone out the window with our planning and common sense has gone out the window with the attitude of so many offices in terms of assessing them and it is costing this community dearly and it has to change.’’