Newcastle Council to cut six management roles

A FIFTH of Newcastle City Council’s senior management team will go under a new structure confidentially approved by councillors on Tuesday night.
Nanjing Night Net

The major changes, which have drawn fire from some councillors who argue they were unable to review the proposal before the vote, will cut one director and five unit managers from the council to save $1 million a year.

That money will join $6.5 million saved through measures introduced in July, stemming the bleeding from the council’s ongoing deficit.

Under the changes, the existing four council groups will be reduced to three.

Planning, Corporate and Infrastructure groups will replace the City Assets, Liveable City, Future City and City Engagement departments.

Each of those departments will include five groups, bringing the existing tally of 20 down to 15.

Newcastle City Council general manager Ken Gouldthorp said the new structure would make the council more intuitive for ratepayers, offering greater transparency and accountability than previous attempts to alter the council.

‘‘Basically the whole approach is to simplify the structure,’’ Mr Gouldthorp said.

‘‘It’s reducing the number of levels and the number of people that a customer might have to talk to to get their question answered.’’

Mr Gouldthorp said he was hopeful most of the changes could be made by mid-2014 while ‘‘about 30 per cent’’ could be in place before January.

The changes have drawn criticism from some councillors who argue they were made in a process that left them in the dark until Tuesday’s vote.

Cr Nuatali Nelmes said she believed councillors should have had more information in the lead-up to entering the chamber on Tuesday.

Cr Nelmes said she had contacted the Department of Local Government about the process of selecting a new structure, saying it was ‘‘mildly insulting’’ councillors were unable to weigh options until they entered the chamber to decide.

‘‘I’ve been through this process before and it was a much more open and collaborative approach,’’ Cr Nelmes said.

‘‘It’s a very big decision and I take it very seriously.’’

Mr Gouldthorp said the Department of Local Government was aware of the council’s process and was content with the procedure.

Greens councillor Therese Doyle said she believed the discussion should have stayed in open council rather than being held confidentially.

She said she believed that, and the inability to prepare questions about the new structure, indicated a lack of transparency at the council.

‘‘I’m very concerned about the creeping process of closing democracy,’’ she said.

‘‘I think we are looking at a much more corporate and presidential style of operation in council and the role of councillors appears to be downgraded.’’

The new structure was put forward as part of a required review of the organisation within 12 months of a local government election.

The new roles will be advertised and filled in phases to minimise turmoil within the organisation.

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