Playford warns council on wage bill

Former Noosa Mayor Noel Playford

By Alan Lander

Former Noosa mayor Noel Playford has ripped into the council for its “scary” proposal to further increase staff costs by eight per cent.

Mr Playford was mayor of Noosa Shire from 1988-1997 and was re-elected for the 2014-2016 to head the interim post-de-amalgamation council. He was widely credited for imposing strict fiscal management to ensure Noosa could again successfully operate its own council following de-amalgamation.

He has remained tight-lipped about the council’s proposed Budget so far – until now.

“I’ve shut up for long enough – but now I have to speak out,” he said.

Mr Playford said council’s reported figures on staff numbers was “misleading” as it did not include temporary and project staff. Figures as at December 2020 showed it had recruited an extra 40 staff.

“Seventeen of them were added during the preceding six months, and many of the remainder were extended by the CEO, despite having been ‘temporary’ for up to four years,” Mr Playford said.

“The proposed Budget provides for an increase in staff costs of $3 million or 8% over the current budget.

“While they say enterprise agreement and workers’ comp increases have to be covered, these are nowhere near that figure.

“No information has been provided about how many additional employees are proposed, but the increase in staff costs is far higher than at any time in the history of Noosa Council.”

Mr Playford said 1.6 FTE project staff had been hired for a Transport Strategy, with their tenure extended from two to 4.5 years.

“Has anyone seen any results yet?” he said.

“And we got a principal strategic planner for three years to develop the Noosa Plan – that’s fair enough – but it just keeps getting extended. The person is still there,” he said.

“Ratepayers are entitled to ask whether this is the result of empire building by staff, or simply adding more staff in a vain attempt to combat inefficient operations – and whether elected members or staff are actually in control.

“We have a problem, Noosa. That’s obvious when the council annual reports [also] show that the outdoor and depot staffing has reduced in the last five years from 97 to 93. “These are the people who get out and about doing the physical work, like keeping the public areas up to scratch, filling the potholes, cleaning blocked drains, fixing footpaths and all those things that add up to service to the community.

“Most of the staff increase has gone towards additional admin staff, many of them supposedly ‘temporary fixed term’ appointments, most of which keep on going far past when the ‘project’ should have finished.”

Mr Playford said he didn’t expect the four new councillors elected just last year to “have a handle on these – and the other three just nod it through”.

“But it’s scary stuff – it’s treading a slippery slope.

“If you don’t run a tight ship, ratepayers will pay for it. A council can only perform if it’s run efficiently.”

Mr Playford said he believed more than 50% of staff still did not live in the shire, as so many remained from positions in the amalgamation into Sunshine Coast Regional Council.

“Many of them don’t understand Noosa values and our way of life.”

“They have some really good staff, and unfortunately we had to make so many others redundant (in 2014). We had some good staff we wanted to [bring] back, but we weren’t allowed to bring them,” he said.

Mr Playford also said council was heading into a world of pain on the short-term accommodation issue.

“Noosa Council is limited in what it can do,” he said.

“It’s going to cost them significantly in limited resources: significant in terms of residents, time, money and legal fights.

“And the state has simply ignored the problem.”