MEMBERS of the very demographic they target – South Gippsland’s older citizens -are starting to ask questions of the shire council about the Active Ageing Plan and the Improving Liveability for Older People project.
Tom Potter, who is the president of the Leongatha University of the Third Age (U3A) and a member of the steering committee for Council’s Active Ageing Plan 2012-2016, said that as far as he can see the projects the project officers have put forward to “improve the liveability for older people” do not tally with the results of the Improving the Liveability of Older People (ILOP) survey.
“I am concerned that the projects they are considering they might run do not address the issues that the respondents to the survey put forward, issues such as missing footpaths and paths that need upgrading, better toilets and improved public transport between towns,” said Mr Potter.
Neil Shaw, a retiree who lives in Sandy Point and is a founding member of Prom Coast U3A, feels so strongly that Council is on the wrong track with its Active Ageing Plan, he presented his views to Council last Wednesday.
He said he was speaking out “because things are not going as they could or should”.
He began by drawing Council’s attention to an earlier strategic document on South Gippsland’s ageing population, ‘The Positive Ageing Plan 2007-2011.’ Dr Shaw said that a review of this document showed that the vast majority of target actions had not been so much as started due to lack of staffing, lack of funding, or both.
“What is needed is a plan that is achievable and straightforward,” he said, going on to say that this has certainly not occurred.
The shire, he said, had been fortunate enough to receive the rare privilege of a $100,000 grant from the Department of Health for an Improving Liveability for Older People project. He said that $20,000 of this sum had been drawn down in November and a further $30,000 in February. “Where has it gone? Council formed a steering committee of five staff and five volunteers and they have had lots of meetings. I fear that it has gone on staff time rather than actions.”
He continued: “So far there has been no transparency with this project. There is not one word about the ILOP project on the Council website and the Minutes of the Steering Committee are not disclosed to the public. It cannot be claimed that the five people from the community who have been appointed to the Steering Committee (not elected) have a duty to communicate anything to the community. They do not report back to the community and do not publish their opinions in any website or media. It is completely misleading to claim that the project has undertaken wide community consultation. Even the list of proposed projects is a mystery to the community members on the Steering Committee.”
These projects, which were outlined in a public presentation by the project officers last Wednesday include:
- Increased diversity of activities at Seniors Festival celebrations;
- Social morning walk on the South Gippsland Rail Trail;
- Good news stories about older residents in local media;
- Resource directory relevant to older residents;
- Community expo;
- Connecting people over a meal;
- Intergenerational activities;
- Support in technology use for older residents;
- Supporting volunteers;
- Information sharing.
Dr Shaw said he was not impressed with the proposed projects, arguing they were not what the community wanted or needed. He queried the worth of a “social morning walk on the South Gippsland Rail Trail” and said that there was already a “community expo”.
He said that many of the proposed projects were an inappropriate use of special grant money, arguing: “Using grant money to advertise existing Council services to the community in a ‘Resources Directory’ is wrong. Budgets for the delivery of any service by Council already include a component for advertising the existence of such services. If existing advertising is thought to be insufficient, then the money for more media advertising should come from existing resources, not from a special ILOP grant.”
Dr Shaw said he had a better idea. He recommended a process modelled on the community grants scheme. Community groups could submit project ideas to the grants officer. They could be assessed by Council, who would choose about ten projects to be funded by ten $10,000 grants.
“That way you will get a big bang for your buck! The community will love you and the government will have something measurable.”
In reply, Jan Martin, Council’s Director of Community Services, said that $20,000 of the ILOP money was specifically for the preliminary consultation with the community and the rest of the money would be used for projects. Furthermore these projects were, she said, discussed in the steering committee which included community representatives, including representatives of the U3A.
The mayor, Cr Warren Raabe, acknowledged that Council has, as Dr Shaw suggested, an excellent community grants scheme, but he said that the money tended to go to groups skilled at grant applications and these groups were made up of people who were ‘joiners’ and as a result there were people in the community who missed out.
“These projects could help other people,” he explained.
Cr David Lewis, however, said that a lot of what Dr Shaw had said was “right on the money.” The best value, he said, was obtained by spending money on projects that the community comes up with – and volunteers will run – much more so than spending money on shire programs.