29 May 2017

"Future Cities Office" structure threatens Townsville Enterprise standing

Townsville City Mayor Jenny Hill Image: Evan Morgan
Townsville City Council (TCC) Mayor Jenny Hill's, Chief Executive Officer, Adele Young's headline announcement axing 144 positions in the proposed restructure of Council has set the foundation for the establishment of a Future Cities Office, while exacerbating doubts about the strategic viability of Townsville Enterprise (TEL) as an economic value-add to the ratepayers of the City.

TCC contributes approximately $750,000 to TEL annually. The other major contributor is the State Government's Tourism and Events Queensland to the tune of approximately $650,000.

TREN's breaking story about Townsville's governance organisation structures damaging the investment pipeline of the City characterised the movement of Council and the Federal government's innovation policies, raising questions about the effectiveness of local government resources and strategic alignment capabilities in attracting federal funding in Townsville's new digital future.

The creation of the Digital Futures Office as part of this restructure confirms the impact of the federal government innovation policy implemented as part of the smart "City Deal" with the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk and Mayor Jenny Hill in 2016.

The Digital Futures Office has been defined as the strategic way forward for council and the interests of ratepayers.

Included in the restructuring, Ms. Young announced the creation of two new roles. A Placemaker, basically to beautify and make the city more people-friendly, and an Economist, which has the capability to analyse enormous amounts of digital data and provide planning input to future economic scenarios.

Both positions will be challenging, to say the least, seeking to bridge the gap between planning and delivery departments, the insatiable appetite of Council executives and department heads demanding briefings, let alone the bone crushing demands of council committees, political and community representatives. The complexities of such roles are a sure sign one man bands would struggle to cope.

In addition to the strategic economic and common sense delivery roles in analytics and communication strategy, the Council has proposed three new sectors that will be established called Digital Cities, Defence, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principles.

One of these sectors deals with the enormous defence funding and associated administrative alignments, another deals with the growing cultural interests, influence and sensitivities of indigenous affairs, and the third directly aligns with innovation and the federal government's smart cities initiative.

All of these new roles are directly influenced by the Turnbull federal government organisational priorities such as native title, defence and innovation policies, which directly aim to impact the Townsville districts. And dare it to be said, not the North Queensland regions including the different Council areas of the Burdekin, Herbert, Palm Island and Charters Towers.

Nowhere in the restructure does a mining, manufacturing, commerce, education, and retailing, or real estate services feature as a future strategic alignment sector, but nonetheless most agree the biggest driving force behind future free market jobs creation. Why has the industry elephant been left out of the restructure?

Although the Economist role would have an appreciation of these industry sectors from an analysis and reporting perspective, and of course Council does not meddle in private enterprise, but where is the strategic bridge connecting and aligning the interests of Townsville's development and growth industries and the economy's desperate need to reduce unemployment?

Seemingly the definition of economic development for Townsville is defined in digital alignment with federal funding, indigenous affairs and defence, being managed in the new functional area called Economic Development (function).


Image: TCC website. Management Structure Townsville City Council 2017

Is Townsville City Council's financial future being aligned exclusively to the federal government funding pipeline, and the technological advances and corporate capital that is well known in the corporatocracy model, to enact, enable and embed enterprise with federal governance funding programmes?

All of these questions are relevant and legitimate, but depending on who controls the press release and public relations, neither the leadership of North Queensland or Townsville, state or federal for that matter, are offering direct and honest answers.

However, the Nous Group report identifies logical and common sense projects to improve the leadership, accountability and alignment of its operations with Council policy and priorities. The current Corporate Support department including shared services, the CEOs office, and the advisory teams will transition unchanged except the establishment of the new "advisory/business partners" team, which includes information, communication and technology.

The cameras and sensors of the "big brother" Turnbull regime have been set in stone by contract in the smart "City Deal", unless a possible Coalition cabinet revolt occurs in Canberra and the deal is taken off the table. The federal government is a significant partner organisation to TCC along with Townsville Enterprise, especially based on the current Mayor’s culpability.

The Turnbull smoking gun was detected by TREN and now the Council's management structure is being loaded with the engineering and digital armoury to leverage the money and personal data of Townsville ratepayers, at the expense of $14 million and 144 Council jobs, to launch the City into the information age and an indirect partnership with corporatocracy hedge fund firms such as Bridgewater Associates, BlueCrest Capital Management, Renaissance Technologies, etc.

Is the economist and digital futures office the beginning of the end for Townsville Enterprise?

Clearly, the partnership advisory capacity is being ramped up at TCC and the demand for taxpayer ROI benefit is required from partner organisations like TEL.

In the context of the TCC restructure, TEL's place as a local government partner is under serious threat and its mischievous misalignment of resources outside of the Townsville districts, while conflicted by property developer profiteering, is duplicity to say the least.
Or is this the beginning for TEL forging a new pathway, justifying their North Queensland agenda with a separate North Queensland state of governance and administration despite the priorities of Townsville ratepayers and customers?

As a membership-based organisation with its own Board of Directors supposedly driving business interests, none of which represent Townsville ratepayers. The most influential members, a part of TCC, are dominated by media companies and Government Owner Corporations (GOC's) or regional councils such as Charter Towers, Palm Island and Hinchinbrook. The Mayor is the only ratepayer representative on the TEL Board.

The TEL model is likely to come under further political scrutiny as the Mayor Jenny Hill made it clear that the purpose of the TCC restructure was aiming to achieve financial sustainability and to keep the cost of rates down, hence providing some insight into the conscience and tactical agenda of local labour government desperate for a Turnbullism olive branch.

The restructuring of top heavy, administrative and management departments at TCC has forsaken the legitimate questions about TEL’s role so far, its priorities and digital future as a partner. The very functions of which was the target in the comprehensive set of recommendations from Nous Group and the TCC CEO's decision to cull so many management positions.

Why has the role of TEL and the Mayor Jenny Hill fallen through the proper scrutiny of the media? Why is Patrica O’Callghan not raising concerns about the recall and reinstatement of the economic, marketing and corporate services functions within TCC threatening the viability of TEL’s purpose?

TEL, as a top-down advocacy, marketing and administration partnership business model, has a principal function for the economic development of North Queensland. It is outlined clearly in its strategic plan.

TEL has established parallel functions with TCC and Council, subcontracting, tinkering at the edges of government and embracing the capital of North Queensland tag in its growing regional focus.

Townsville's political priorities towards projects and activities biased towards the common thread of TEL director's interest in property development, including the stadium, while pushing kinship with districts external to Townsville ratepayer interests, has more to say about Ms. Hill’s role. It is a functional agenda outsourced from TCC and Council until the Nous Group exposed the waste, poor decision-making and poor delivery of services.

The duplicated TCC partnership formula with TEL, the misalignment of political policy delivery and support, disastrous unemployment and broader negative economic results, a top heavy risk averse TCC management structure, the reckless appointment of property development moguls influencing an isolated, frustrated, desperate, and incompetent Mayor (also fellow TEL Board director), has created an environment of irresponsible governance, accountability and leadership.

The influence of the TEL’s Board, especially with a membership Mayor evidently with poor TCC support, and desperation for property development revenues, has created a culture of corporate dependency in conflict with the interests of ratepayers and the community.

The Mayor and TEL’s misguided strategic plan focusing on construction and mining, and its fixation on federal and state government welfare has pushed the Townsville community into recession, boasting the highest bankruptcies, and the worst unemployment results in the country.

These are watershed events. Are we seeing the beginning of a new North Queensland state, under quasi-administration by North Queensland Enterprise masquerading as Townsville Enterprise?

Considering the abysmal leadership of its North Queensland advocacy,  marketing and administration functions, and in the context of the damning recommendations by the Nous Group, one could hardly image a successful campaign.

But given the poor funding outcomes for North Queensland from the recent Turnbull-Morission budget, many locals are questioning the effectiveness of not only TEL and TCC, but the innovation and tactical leadership of Council and the State government neglecting jobs, water infrastructure and energy investment as the three most popular interests of Townsville ratepayers.

The political party for a North Queensland state would like to hope so considering the disproportionate distribution of Queensland state revenues to North Queensland compared to its economic outputs. North Queensland is subsidising the South-east. More cash receipts go out of the region than what comes back to the people in the vicinity of $6 trillon per annum.

The key announcements in the Council restructure apart from the unfortunate job losses, is the capabilities created in analysis and communication, and the establishment of sectors, not departments, but functional areas strategically aligned to the financial future of TCC's digital, cultural and defence industries.

The independent report by Nous Group released in September last year identified that the Council had excessive outsourcing and contracting positions, disguising the inflated full-time staff levels in the organisation.

Yet, Townsville Enterprise was not included in the review even though the key recommendations of the Nous report has painted a massive target on the backs of this outsourced, partner organisation advocating and marketing on behalf of the TCC and Council.

Ms. Young said, "Council's new structure better aligns planning, support and delivery roles to break down silos and duplication, cut unsustainable external labour costs and place the focus where it should be on frontline services and outcomes for the community."

But hang on, isn't TEL a silo structure and does it not duplicate the function of the proposed Digital Future Office (defined more broadly as "Economic Development (Function)" with respect to the interest of Townsville districts?

In a statement to the Townsville Bulletin, Ms. Young said; "We are trimming from the top, which is evident in how many management positions we have cut... from 63 to 39," she said. It's the decision to cut these management positions that have created the most significant reduction in costs to the budget moving forward.

Mayor Jenny Hill has a different view of the restructure's purpose. The Mayor identified the purpose of the restructure was to "deliver on a major election commitment and "getting the basics right for Council's financial sustainability and easing pressure on rates," she said. 

The Nous Group was damning of her government's performance and lack of policy delivery, meanwhile racking up enormous debt.

As far as Townsville's history is concerned, the Hill government has presided over a hiatus period of catastrophe for Townsville residents, laden with debt, poor policy delivery and the worst economic decline the City has experienced.

But the strategic alliance with Townsville Enterprise has come under scrutiny in the Nous Group recommendations. The CEO said she will adopt them all in full because they are extensive and comprehensive. They projects relevant to partners include in part;
  • "Assess the current benefits being generated by local partnerships funded by local council and negotiate alignment partner activities with Council priorities." 
  • " TCC should take a leadership role in Townsville's development through strategic alliances with appropriate institutions."
  • "Confirm service level agreement with partners that receive TCC funding and track return on investment (ROI) to assess benefit realisation."
As part of the restructure 144 positions will be slashed saving $14 million. The number of divisions will be cut from five to three. 72 existing temporary roles will transition to permanent full-time positions. There will be 97 new permanent full-time positions created.  187 temporary positions will not be renewed under the new structure. With the focus on planning on frontline delivery, existing administration support capabilities will move into planning and service delivery.

The principal membership role that TCC plays at TEL and the Mayor’s Board influence has come under close scrutiny by TREN, but the local Townsville mainstream media has been uninterested. The conflicts of interests, political incompetence and management failures at TEL and TCC have been exposed by TREN and now the Nous report backs up the legitimate concerns raised by its investigations and many publications over the past few years.

It is the subject of growing debate because, during the days of this Mayor, TCC's reckless leadership, accountability and ineffective strategic partnership alliances have largely gone unnoticed by the people of Townsville.

The legacy of Mayor Jenny Hill’s poor leadership, the ineffective structure of private and public institutions, lack of strategic placement of “value-add” influential community leaders and a dependency for government support has been a disservice to the community of Townsville over the past 10 years.

Over the next 10 years, one is hesitant to forecast, but a real danger exists that the Townsville leadership culture will not heed the text of the TCC restructure and the broader lessons for TEL, Council representatives, the vested academic institutions and media influences in the City.

And it must be called out again, the duplicity surrounding property moguls on the TEL Board on the collective values, capabilities and operational vision contrary to beneficial interests of the people, ratepayers and of the Townsville districts.

Unfortunately, with the smart “city deal” aligning civil and demographic resources to a government even further away than South-east Queensland in Canberra, and the supply chain of information, funding and investment being more closely aligned with a corporatocracy model, the priority interests of ratepayers is likely to appear even more immaterial through the haze of the dust storm of cronyism, conservatism and “fake news” consuming the public discourse.

Property owners and investors contribute nearly 10 percent of the City's economic output and the majority of the wasted rates revenues collected by the City. Investors alone supply nearly 40 percent of the City's accommodation and therefore pays the comparable percentage in Council rates to TCC.

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