New Year opens with an attack by Messenger Press on Unley

The Messenger Press has provided the City of Unley a new years greeting via the column this week by Andrew Faulkner entitled “Reading Between the Council Lines”. A column quite scathing of our accounting practices.

 

The essence of the storey is our accounts include an item of over $ 2.0 m allocated to would you believe “General”. That is a large figure we all would agree to be put under “General”.

Fair enough therefore to ask the question. And I agree that the costs allocated to this heading should surely be able to be posted more meaningfully but much in Local Government is constrained by regulation.

The storey was written however in my opinion as a means of denigrating Council and to paint us as trying to hide things we don’t want you to know about. He clearly was not happy that the skeleton staff we had when he asked for clarifications were not able …or he suggests … willing to respond.

Unlike council however who the same paper will criticize for conducting public consultations just prior to Christmas when everyone is focused on other things he expects us to be able to provide for his needs (as urgent as they obviously were) during the Christmas break.

Indeed his article was printed before most of our staff had returned from holidays. Maybe that was the urgency.

Getting to the accounts now, earlier in the week our Mayor (who read an early copy) asked Management to provide detail to the accounts. The response we have thus far is as follows:

 

The story focuses on our use of “other” expenditure and makes some broad statements about categories that cost centre covers. I wish to make the following points for Members’ information:
  • Firstly, it should be noted that our current format of the financial accounts  has been in place for over 10 years and are in accordance with accounting standards and the model set of accounts prescribed by the Regulations. The ‘Other’ classification is used to record expenditure where it does not fit anywhere else.
 
The article mentioned specifically;
  • $372k contributions. This is our payment to the LGA
  • $135k program expenses. These are for the delivery of services at our Community Centres and through Community Services (most have corresponding income)
  • $720k marketing. This includes support for our 5 Main street Associations, Council Brochures, Community Consultation on DAP’s and SAPN work undertaken last year, publications such as Unley Life, Advertising in the Messenger Press, displays at the Museum and Media monitoring
  • $254k General.  This is spread across the organisation
 
Other items in the $2.1m include:
  • Committee Sitting Fees $50k
  • Banks Fees and debt collection $130k
  • Payment to Valuer General for rates valuation data $162k
  • FBT $157k

 

Having said all that, I agree with our CEO that it is appropriate in today’s environment to provide a further breakdown of costs so that the “Other” expenses is reduced. For example, if the above expenses were categorised in specific cost centres, that would reduce the “other” by about $1.5m leaving about $600k in “other”. Having said that, I wonder how much more breakdown is needed to avoid similar accusations in the future.

Management confirm they will review this as part of the budget preparation work this year to achieve a balance between the number of cost centres created and the level of detail to provide the community with a degree of confidence.

Hoping this helps anyone who has been disturbed by Andrew’s article. If you have any misgivings and/or seek further clarifications please let me know and I will endeavor to obtain them for you.