Scope to reduce number of local councils: Eslake

Saul Eslake

Saul Eslake

LEADING economist Saul Eslake says there is significant scope to reduce the number of Tasmanian local government areas.

Delegates from Tasmania's 29 councils converged on Hobart this week to explore issues and opportunities facing council leaders.

Among a range of topics canvassed at the three-day conference was achieving statewide planning reform, including rolling out a single planning scheme.

Sharing information and resources among councils was also up for discussion.

Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein addressed the conference early in the week, reaffirming the state government had no desire to force council amalgamations.

Mr Gutwein said the government would engage with councils who volunteered.

Mr Eslake said there was an opportunity to rationalise the number of councils in major urban areas across the state, including around Launceston and Hobart.

``I would think the state could probably bring the number of local government areas to somewhere in the high teens,'' Mr Eslake said.

``But irrespective of numbers, it's a matter of working from the bottom up and seeing what makes sense in each part of the state.''

Mr Eslake said some would still need their own local governments.

``If areas like the West Coast, Bass Strait islands, Circular Head and the Huon aren't their own councils, then the idea of local government has no meaning,'' he said.

LGAT president Barry Easther said he was not convinced worthwhile savings could be made by slashing the number of councils.

``If there are benefits, let's have a look at them,''  he  said.

``It certainly hasn't been proven, and bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.''

Cr Easther said councils were already collaborating to deliver services as efficiently, effectively and affordably as possible.

In the lead-up to the state election, business lobby group Tasmanians for Reform argued council mergers could result in significant rate reductions.

A TFR spokesman said yesterday there was currently no political appetite to pursue  amalgamation, but the group may look to lobby for mergers again in the future.

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