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the blind leading the blind …

The Beagle Editor and Bega Valley Shire readers Your Eurobodalla readers might find our latest media release of interest. The expenditure of ratepayers money on tourism, the measure of its effectiveness on our local economy and how this is reported,quantified and qualified is of interest to us all. the blind leading the blind …

At the beginning of January this year, the Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) issued a Media Release on the issue of Tourism in the Bega Valley Shire (see “the many faces of tourism”).

The purpose of that release was to better inform residents & ratepayers on tourism issues, including current actions being pursued by Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) & the state government in that space, in particular where those activities have involved, or may involve in the future, significant expenditure of ratepayers’ funds.

The following month the BVSRRA published a further release, criticising the report prepared by BVSC’s “Tourism Industry Liaison Group”, which was supposedly initiated to inform the strategic basis of council’s (read ratepayers) future investment in the sector (see “the tourism con“).

One of the important points that the BVSRRA made in its January release was that it “believed” that ratepayers had funded “approximately $3M in funding to underwrite the activities of Sapphire Coast Tourism (SCT) in promoting & developing tourism in the Bega Valley over the past decade, with around $2M provided by a special rate variation imposed on commercially zoned properties & the balance funded by all ratepayers”.

The fact is that the BVSRRA could only rely on an “estimate” because BVSC had refused to confirm the actual amounts.

When BVSC refused the BVSRRA’s original GIPA Application requesting details of ratepayer-funded expenditure on tourism via Sapphire Coast Tourism (SCT), the reason it gave was that “in order to provide such details, Council would be required to create a new record or information by deduction, inference or calculation from information held by Council”, which, conveniently, the GIPA Act says it is not obliged to do. So, BVSC’s view appeared to be that because it didn’t have to provide the information, it simply wouldn’t.

So much for our “right to know” … so much for “openness & transparency” …

So the BVSRRA appealed that decision through the Information & Privacy Commission (IPC) & while that process has opened-up a whole other can of worms (which we won’t go into right now), the IPC did provide the BVSRRA with relevant new information about BVSC, including:

  • the requested information is held in two different operating systems;

  • while the bulk of the information requested resides within the above operating systems, some of it is also held in another old accounting system; &

  • according to the IPC, BVSC has confirmed that to locate, analyse & collate all the information requested would entail 12 hours of work.

So, BVSC’s refusal to provide the information was not necessarily because it wanted to keep the information secret or wanted to frustrate the BVSRRA but, according to the IPC, it simply doesn’t have the information either (unless it lied to the IPC of course).

While the BVSRRA is deeply concerned about the inadequacies of BVSC’s business systems, it is more concerned that BVSC is now busy working on plans that will entail spending even more ratepayers’ funds on the development & promotion tourism.

In criticising the quality of the work undertaken by the TILG, the BVSRRA questioned why it had not completed a critical analysis of historic ratepayer expenditure on the tourism sector & the quality of the outcomes from that expenditure, so as to better inform future plans. While the TILG didn’t pursue any such analysis, it may well be that it simply wasn’t able to, given the shortcomings in council’s management systems.

Whatever the reasons, that BVSC would pretend to be managing the strategic direction of tourism in the Bega Valley, when it can’t even maintain basic information relating to the sector’s activities, is not only an indictment of its dreadful incompetence, but a powerful reason why it should not be entrusted with the stewardship of such important activities.

As the BVSRRA pointed-out after last week’s council meeting, the elected council should be focussing its energies on addressing the systemic management failings within BVSC, rather than wasting its time & ratepayers’ funds attacking council’s critics.

They could do worse than to start with the “tourism con”… if they know how or even care? John Richardson Secretary/Treasurer Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association

#Opinion #Bega

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