This month we speak to Andrew Meddle, General Manager Sustainable Communities at the Rural City of Murray Bridge.
Andrew explains his fascinating journey from working in Local Government in the UK to holding a key position in a growing rural City - and how he once tried to smuggle a knife into the Houses of Parliament!
Hi Andrew, thanks for talking with us.
What’s your current role, and what does it involve?
I have a varied portfolio covering planning, building, environmental and public health, compliance, community services, business support and arts and culture.
I have some amazing facilities to manage too in our library, regional art gallery, town hall, theatre, Lerwin Aged Care Facility and our recently improved swimming pool.
Above all I have a great team, with a great sense of humour and a great community centred approach.
Where were you before and what attracted you to your current role?
I was Head of Planning & Transport for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council in the UK. Southend is the biggest town in the Eastern region of the UK with over 250,000 reliant on it and 6,000,000 visitors per annum.
Having grown up in the town it was both the best and worst job in the world. 51 Councillors and all of them were interested in planning and transport – 17 sat on the equivalent of the DAP!
I was also the transport manager for the mountain biking event at the London 2012 Olympics.
Before Southend I worked for small Councils, national government, regional government, two County Councils and a charity in country parks, libraries and planning!
I migrated to Adelaide in October 2012 with my wife and daughter. After a month or so settling in, I was offered the role at Murray Bridge and was immediately excited by the challenges and opportunities. That was January 2013 and I have enjoyed coming to work every day since.
What is the most satisfying thing about working in Local Government, especially in a rural city?
Making a difference every day, in different ways.
I’ve worked at all tiers of government in the UK and local is the best connected and transformative.
My major achievement at Southend was to enable the redevelopment of the airport and economic stimulation this brought the town and sub-region during a severe recession. I was really proud to be part of the team that delivered the multi-award winning Better Southend Project and winning UK Council of the Year in 2012.
At Murray Bridge the scale is different. Here I look forward to enabling the community to access our services and to enabling the Sustainable Communities team to deliver the best services they can. I greatly enjoy the political side of the work and the sparring with Elected Members and seeing, how together, we can make Murray Bridge an even better place to live, work and visit.
Speaking about your current role – What are the challenges in making or maintaining Murray Bridge as a “sustainable community”.
Murray Bridge is growing and growing older and it is doing both of these faster than most of South Australia.
This coupled to the socio-economic profile of the area leads me to believe that we will face significant additional demands for our services. Also having seen changes in the UK, I expect to see demands for the quality of service increase and expectations that Councils will do more for less.
The local government paradigm will have to shift to meet community expectation and at present South Australia seems more focussed around finding the money or not doing things rather than being innovative.
What pressures are (or have been) created through the transition of Murray Bridge from country town to a rural city, with many more people commuting out of the area to work?
The doubled edged sword of expectation – residents want all of the amenities and benefits of a rural town: that ability to park outside the shop they want, to have local shops and not national chains in Bridge Street and access the services they need without waiting – coupled to the perceived benefits of living in a metro area in terms of improved public transport, a spread of services and the shops they see in bigger centres.
The fact that people travel to work is something that we can’t change overnight, but plans are in hand to help us address this. We are developing Monarto as an employment hub to serve Murray Bridge and Mount Barker and also seeking to exploit other employment opportunities by working better and more proactively with partners from the public and private sectors.
You’re on the GM network – what do you see as the most value in being involved in this network?
For me connections to knowledge, to experience and to opportunity. The network will help me to develop networks, to share experiences and knowledge and to develop opportunities. I have a lot to learn about South Australian local government, but can also contribute a different perspective.
Personally, what’s the longer term plan – where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I am learning the ropes of a different local government system and am trying to familiarise and become proficient in the South Australian local government before taking the next step up. I love local government and South Australia, so I see so no need to move. I am greatly enjoying my role and lifestyle in Murray Bridge and would like to be able to grow here too.
Do you have an embarrassing “Local Government moment?”
Dining out (for work!) at the Houses of Parliament and going through the security screening with the Leader of the Council and Chief Executive carrying the smallest penknife in the world. I was then pulled to one side, frisked, the penknife confiscated and by the time I had made the dinner it was announced I had been arrested for trying to smuggle a machete onto the premises!
How do you spend your leisure time outside of Local Government?
I love playing golf and spending time with my family travelling and exploring South Australia.
We feel privileged to live and work here and believe we have been made to feel so welcome. We are looking forward to making a difference here between now and retirement in 30 years!