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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

The Twyford history - the call for an efficiency review remains

In a Governance Report to the Extraordinary Meeting Of Council held On Tuesday 30 March 2010 the Twyford report was tabled. The purpose of this report was to enable Council to clarify and make public the results of the recent public engagement process. The report offers: "Typically in the past Council has adopted a Draft Management Plan (DMP) to which the public only had little (if any) input before it was placed on exhibition. This year the Council made a decision to engage in public consultation using an independent facilitator (Twyfords) prior to adopting a Draft Management Plan for public exhibition." "Following on from the second and final forum for this particular process the Council has received the independent report which is attached and available from Council’s web site" (Note - the report can NOT be found on Council's website) Readers of the Beagle might not be aware that in 2010 the following question was asked of the Eurobodalla Shire Councillors and Executive Leadership Team “Council’s existing income is insufficient to fund infrastructure and services which it believes our community expects. How will Council fund infrastructure and services provided to our community? If Council is unable to fund infrastructure and services into the future, what can be cut from Council’s management plan so that it can balance its budget for 2010-2014?” In order to answer this question a community Forum was established: The objective was to recruit a group of 75 Forum participants who broadly represented the Eurobodalla communities by age, gender and geographic location. Recruitment of Forum participants was supervised by the Steering Group. One third (25) were invited to participate by Council because they were known to be interested in Council activities. Another third (25) were selected from over 40 Nominations that were received after a communications campaign in the local media and on the Council website. The final group were recruited as a result of a telephoning activity the week prior to the first Forum. While 25 people were sought, only 19 accepted the invitation to participate. A Questionnaire was posted to the web, with hard copies made available through Council offices and Libraries, with the aim of providing Forum participants with some knowledge of the range of perspectives and opinions on the problem that currently existed within the Eurobodalla community. Four questions were posed: 1. How satisfied are you with the services and facilities provided by Council. 2. If Council does not increase its revenue it will need to reduce the services and facilities that it provides in order to balance the budget. 3. What services and facilities should Council reduce? 4. What do you see as the main priorities for future services and facilities in the Shire? 5. If Council was to increase revenue through a special rate variation, what would you think about that? Respondents were given about 250 words for each answer. No other restrictions were applied to responses and no identification as a ratepayer or resident of the Shire was required. This meant that the responses could not be claimed as representative of stakeholders in the Shire, nor was there any point in quantifying responses, as the results could not be extrapolated to the broader community with any certainty. 447 copies of the completed Questionnaire were received by Council. The content of 334 completed Questionnaires were summarised and provided to Forum participants to demonstrate the range of opinions and responses received. Forum attendees were offered three options to discuss in regard to the question: “Council’s existing income is insufficient to fund infrastructure and services which it believes our community expects. How will Council fund infrastructure and services provided to our community? If Council is unable to fund infrastructure and services into the future, what can be cut from Council’s management plan so that it can balance its budget for 2010-2014?” Option 1. Reduce internal costs, Options 2. Increase income and Options 3. Cut services. Forum participants spent time exploring those options with Council staff. Some Forum participants added additional options they wanted considered. The selection criteria agreed to were: Fairness to all Council constituents Meets my needs personally Meets the needs of the Shire’s vulnerable/marginalised/disadvantaged Maintains Council assets at an acceptable standard Has the lowest potential for outrage Is likely to be acceptable to the most people Is aligned to the Eurobodalla Shire Council vision Is likely to make a meaningful long term benefit to Council’s finances Encourages ongoing protection of the natural environment Is likely to contribute to the wellbeing of Shire residents. To the surprise of Council the forum participants chose not to opt for the three options present but to vote for an option that they identified themselves Option 4. An Independent efficiency review This option, which was suggested by a Forum participant, not by Council, received by far the most support . Some of the many reasons why participants prioritised this option were stated as: External audit recommended for transparency Independent external audit to make sense of this farce Recommend a full external audit with everything on the table Do an independent efficiency audit before anything else otherwise this is a pointless exercise We need independent assessment to know council is as efficient as possible Council cannot self audit The CSR suggestion by Dr Roberts is proven strategy External auditis best way for ratepayers to know the council is being run with optimum efficiency Happy to have a rate increase with an effective outside efficiency audit – long term benefit. Independent audit, it will bring the issue to a point where either a remedy is apparent or a rate increase is unavoidable There were 3 people who indicated opposition to this option for the following reasons: No independent audit.The council operations strike me as being very efficient already No. I do not believe the independent audit will serve the purpose people believe it will I would be violently opposed to an independent audit as it would cost too much and not find significant efficiencies. Right through the Forum process it was observed that there was a consistently expressed, sometimes uninformed, antagonism from many aggrieved and irate Forum members towards the Council. This antagonism fuelled a consistent lack of trust, not only of Council, but also of anyone who spoke positively about their experiences of Council and in the process itself. This antagonism and lack of trust affected the Forum process in that it appeared to prevent many Forum participants from engaging in the process, seeing any value at all in working with Council to find a solution to the problem, or taking any of the activities seriously. “The process was a farce …” was one comment at the end of the second Forum. The anger and frustration of some of those aggrieved and irate members of the Forum lead them to use every opportunity given in the Forum for participants to ask questions or explore new ideas, instead to make statements about their position or about Council’s inadequacy which meant that such open Forum activities had to be curtailed. Another common view heard throughout the Forum was that the whole engagement process was another attempt by Council to gain a rate rise over the State Government’s cap, this time by stealth. All of the options other than the rate rise were described by some participants as “window dressing”, just so Council could demonstrate that it had engaged its community prior to making application for a special rate variation. While many of these antagonistic attitudes can be explained by the fact that the recruitment process targeted many of Council’s active detractors, by several events in recent Council history and by the recognition that such attitudes are not unusual in today’s society where the responsibilities and activities of local government are not well understood, their intensity in the Forums was unexpected and surprising. The level of support for the idea of an independent external review of Council activities to drive down costs and increase Council efficiency, put forward by one of the presenters, Dr Ray Roberts, was very high. It was not clear from the comments of Forum participants whether the overwhelming support for this option was based on recognition of the potential value of such a review to Council’s future or whether it was seen as a “silver bullet” that, if undertaken, could itself stave off the necessity either for a rate rise or for any service cuts. Forum 2 results can be found HERE Mid-term recommendations Commence a conversation with Forum participants about the Independent Efficiency Review that so many people supported. Consider the purpose and objectives of an Efficiency Review from all stakeholder perspectives. It could be useful to ask the question: “Can we develop a review process that meets the needs of the Forum participants that can be done without the expense of external consultants such as McKinsey by using internal staff and/or by engaging the community?” Councillors, the General Manager, the Executive Leadership Team together with a small community task force could identify an agreed review method that could be undertaken transparently and with full participation of a small group of community members. This method could be implemented with members of the community participating as data gatherers and data analysers where appropriate. A first step might be scoping the review method with a group using questions like: What aspects of Council activity should be reviewed? What does efficiency look like and what evidence of efficiency and lack of efficiency would be required to support organisational change? What data should be collected? When data has been collected how will it be analysed and what will the analysis demonstrate? How might recommended changes be implemented without impacting on the needs of the Eurobodalla community? It is important that both the process and the outcome of the efficiency review is owned and trusted by the community so that the resulting changes undertaken are understood and their success monitored to rebuild and maintain a positive relationship between Council and its constituents "Council will, under the new State Government integrated planning guidelines, need to engage its community in the development of a Long Term Community Plan. Significant steps towards trust and relationship building can be undertaken if this planning process can be highly visible, transparent and engaging. Sharing community and Council values, developing agreed core Council activities and operating principles and then using them as a basis for planning could help the community contribute to, and better understand, the role of Council in Eurobodalla, the services it must deliver under the relevant Local Government legislation, and how it decides on the discretionary services it delivers. Whatever decisions are made about the future, it will be important for Council to develop an ongoing communications strategy that informs the Eurobodalla communities on an ongoing basis of such things as: § What Council is required to do under the Local Government legislation; § What services the State Government provides locally; § How Council governs itself, including the role of Councillors, the Mayor, the General Manager and senior executives; § What services Council provides in each area of the Shire and at what cost. While Council does provide this information now in many of its publications, it is obvious that many members of the community do not understand it. Just providing such information in documents for a community that increasingly does not read, does not help understanding. MINUTES OF EXTRAORDINARY MEETING OF EUROBODALLA SHIRE COUNCIL HELD ON TUESDAY 30 MARCH 2010 MINUTE 10/56G10/27 PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT10.402810/56 MOTION Councillor Chris Vardon/Councillor Alan Morton THAT: 1.Councillors, Executive Leadership Team and a small community task force identify and agree efficiency and effectiveness review options in consultation with the General Manager who will report these options and inform the Council of proposed actions. 2.Opportunities for incorporating effectiveness and efficiency measures into publicly available material including providing some more emphasis within the Management Plan or future integrated planning documents be identified. 3.The Tourism Board and Chambers of Commerce be appraised of the forum results in respect of tourism and provide feedback to Council on their views on future funding options. 4.An initial meeting of the representatives of the Volunteers, the Friends of the Gardens and the Management committee be held to look at the options for Managing the Botanical Gardens. 5.Council pursue all reasonable options to reinstate the dividends from Water and Sewer Funds to General or Environmental Fund as a source of funding to resource and invest in projects with a future return to General Fund such as efficiency and energy savings. 6.An initial review of the Batemans Bay Beach Resort and related options be commenced with consultation and reporting back to Council’s Audit Committee. 7.Further options with street lighting be investigated in conjunction with the review of that contract. 8.Any rates increase be addressed in conjunction with the DMP adoption. 9.The General Manager review, determine and report back on the appropriate structure for the Grants Officer position.

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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