The current economic times are difficult for businesses, and it is no different for Councils. We talk to the General Manager of the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, Andrew Roach.
> Give us an insight into your background before you became the General Manager of the Council …
Prior to my appointment here at Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, I was the General Manager at Blaney Shire Council. That is about three and a half hours west of Sydney, in the rural parts surrounding Bathurst and Orange districts.
I was the General Manager there for five years. Prior to that I was the manager of financial services at the same Council. I had nine years in total in the Central West, and it was a very enjoyable and good time there learning a great many things about local government.
> On a personal note, how are you and your family settling into life in Port Macquarie?
Our family is absolutely loving it. Our kids have settled in well in the school and we got involved with Nippers very early in the piece, and they’re into all local sports at the moment. They loved the move up here to the Mid North Coast, and they think it is just a fantastic place to live.
> It’s been nine months since you’ve been appointed the General Manager here. What are some of the most challenging issues you have faced during that time?
The largest challenge facing Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is its financial position – something that was highlighted just three months after my arrival with a report that was presented to Council showing a rather large deficit.
That’s probably one of the biggest challenges that faces this Council: trying to get us back into a position of a strong, solid financial platform. With that in place, which will take several years, that will allow the Council to progress again and return to some of those larger initiatives that have occurred in the past.
> A consequence of that has been the difficult decision to offer some staff voluntary redundancy. What’s the morale like in Council?
Staff morale is a difficult thing to manage each time. The redundancies certainly did prove a challenge throughout the organisation, but the professionalism of the staff throughout the process was amazing. They certainly stepped up to the mark and made some significant challenges a lot easier for the whole process.
But that being said, staff morale is still a challenge for the executive team, and we are certainly addressing that each week and putting in place a number of measures to try and return this place to a happy place to work and one where the employees are proud to be.
> Obviously the Glasshouse has been a controversial issue for local residents. Have you been inside the building – what do you think of it?
I go through the Glasshouse on a regular basis now that we are getting towards the pointy end. We are about one month away from opening now, so we are almost at show time. It’s an exciting venue, and it’s certainly got an exciting team behind it trying to bring these fantastic activities and programs to this community.
It’s something now, with a bit of trepidation, the community is sitting back waiting to really jump in there and make the Glasshouse a spectacular venue.
> The Council continues to have $25 million tied up in an investment portfolio. In the wake of a worsening financial climate, do we know what the value of these investments are today?
That’s a very difficult thing, and the CDOs are a very complex investment product that the Council did get involved with. Of the $25 million that is tied up within these products, I made the decision once I arrived to write off about $18 million of that.
Now that is just paper losses at this present time, but at any point in time in the future they may become a reality. Whether or not they do is at the mercy of the market – we’ll just basically have to wait and see.
We have been prudent in our financial management and acknowledged what these CDOs are, and we have taken the actual value and put it on Council’s books.
> Looking to the future Andrew, what do you think are some of the most important issues that you and the Council will face in some of the coming months and years?
Some of the major challenges that have been highlighted to me not only by the community within Port Macquarie-Hastings area, but also our staff, is the return to core services and building good roads and good bridges, parks and footpaths – and providing those as essential core services that the community really deserve to have.
That is one of the big challenges over the next three to four years, and getting Council back to delivering those core services is really essential.
> Thank you Andrew.