This month we speak with Michael Collins, Manager Projects and Procurement at Coorong District Council.
Michael tells us why he was attracted to the sector, his commitment to professional development and what he learned from the recent LG Professionals SA 'Imagineering' event.
Coorong District Council recently won the LG Professionals SA Award for Excellence in Local Economic Development for the SA Motorsport Park - a major economic development project in Tailem Bend. Michael explains how this came about and how the community will benefit.
Hi Michael - thanks for speaking with us.
What’s your current role, and what does it involve?
My current role is Manager, Projects and Procurement at Coorong District Council. This role incorporates; project managing the delivery of Council’s capital works program, contractor management, procurement, managing Council’s administration and works vehicle fleet, and looking after Council’s property interests (leases, licences, permits, road closures, sales and acquisitions).
Where were you before? (i.e. what is your work background/career path so far)
My main career background is in real estate. Having been a Branch Manager for two of the UK’s largest real estate companies in Cornwall and Devon, in 2002 I set up my own business in Exeter which specialised in the sale of quirky, interesting and period properties in the city. Our company tagline was ‘re-designing estate agency’ and we prided ourselves on impeccable customer service and being ahead of the game, being the first estate agency in the city to use text message alerts and automatic email matching of new listings to our customer database. We also ditched suits and ties in favour of less formal smart casual attire.
After selling the business in preparation for moving to Australia, I worked for nine months for Exeter City Council as a Housing Officer, working with a range of clients who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Many were escaping from domestic violence or had drug/alcohol problems, which also posed child protection issues. It was working in this role that gave me my passion for local government and the realisation that we have the ability to make a huge difference to the lives of people in our communities.
On arriving permanently in Australia in April 2010, I worked again briefly in real estate, before taking up the position of Property Officer with Coorong District Council in October 2011. My role developed with additional responsibilities and I took on the position of Manager, Projects & Procurement in July 2014.
What attracted you to local government, and your current role?
It was initially my love of politics, in particular ‘community politics’ (I used to be very politically active in my youth, at one stage being the National Press Officer of the Young Liberal Democrats of England and also a candidate a couple of times in local council elections in the UK). Whilst I no longer have any desire to be active politically, working in local government seemed to be a good way to make a positive impact in the community.
What motivates you? What do you find most interesting or exciting about working in local government?
Making things happen. I enjoy the challenge of tackling the tough stuff and getting results. It is also extremely rewarding to see the successful fruition of a project, whether it is a new toilet block, a re-modelled office or a fishing jetty, knowing that I have in some ways influenced the final outcome and that they will be there for years to come.
Speaking about your current role – Manager Projects and Procurement - what are you most proud of since you've held that role? What initiatives or new ideas have you employed that might be very valuable for other councils to use or try?
Helping to guide Council through the process of seeking expressions of interest for the sale of the Motorsport Park, the lengthy detailed contract negotiations, satisfying the contract conditions precedent to the sale, through to seeing work physically start on the site. On a personal level it meant getting involved in and learning about areas of Council work that I’d had little knowledge of previously, including; Native Vegetation offsets (SEB’s), Development Plan Amendments, Consortium Agreements and Section 48 Prudential Reporting.
Council showing the initiative and having the courage to enter into a consortium agreement with a private company (in this case for the purpose of applying for and acquitting a grant) is something that I would encourage Council’s to be more open to in order to advance and unlock the economic potential in their communities.
Congratulations on your recent LG Professionals SA Award for Excellence in Local Economic Development – for the SA Motorsport Park Development. This is an exciting project not only for the Council but for SA. What could other councils learn from your approach?
I believe that a large part of the reason that the Motorsport Park development has been able to progress has been Council’s drive and determination to facilitate the development wherever possible by attempting to remove obstacles, rather than being the obstacle.
Obviously we have had to follow process and ensure that we are putting the interests of our ratepayers first, but instead of taking a ‘jobsworth’ approach, that can be the stereotypical view that private business has of local government, we have appreciated that speed and time is of the essence, and have used external consultants to expedite processes where our own in-house resources were lacking.
Our elected members have brought the community on the journey and have been resilient in the face of negativity and criticism, particularly early on in the process.
How will the council/community benefit from this development in terms of economic development into the future? Will the Council continue to have some involvement in future years?
The economic benefits to both Council and the community of this development will be huge. The projections are for 974 FTE to be created (603 in construction and 371 in flow on), 339,000 extra visitors to the Murray and Mallee district per annum producing a $113.4m Gross Regional Product (Murray and Mallee).
It is likely that we will also see the continued rapid growth of townships in the Coorong Council District, such as Wellington East, increasing both the ratepayer base and the likely valuations. It is also expected that townships like Meningie will also benefit from visitors extending their stay to enjoy the area.
How much time per week do you spend on your own professional development? How important do you think it is for professionals to allocate time to working 'on the business' and their own skills?
I think professional development is incredibly important and like most, I probably don’t spend enough time on it. Taking time out to attend professional development activities and events away from the workplace enables us to think outside the confines of our everyday roles, open our minds and hone our skills.
LG Professionals SA is focused on providing professional development for the sector – what was the most recent LG Professionals SA event you attended and what did you learn from it?
The most recent LG Professionals SA event that I attended was the ‘Imagineering’ event. I obviously took a lot away from it, as I keep finding myself enthusing to my colleagues and elected members about various parts of the event...what if we could....?.
In particular the presentation by Mark Dowd (CEO of Onkaparinga) and his example of paying a business owner to put tables and chairs on the footpath rather than charging them, resulting in the business owner getting so busy that they needed to employ 3 extra people. This was a great example of going against conventional wisdom and obtaining a fantastic outcome for the local economy.
Personally, what’s the longer term plan? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Whilst I might like to see myself in five years sitting on a beach in Northern Queensland sipping an ice cold beer, in the absence of a lotto win, the next best thing would be continuing to progress my career in local government either at Coorong or another progressive council in South Australia.
How do you spend your leisure time outside of local government?
When I’m not enjoying family time with my partner Ian and his 6 year old son, I love making the main thing I miss about my native Cornwall. I hate to tell the people of South Australia that what you refer to as a ‘Cornish Pasty’ is nothing like the real thing. The only way that I can satisfy my regular cravings for a genuine Cornish Pasty is to make one myself!