Community Engagement Reform a Necessary Local Government Reform

Community Engagement Reform, the 4th area of the Governments Local Government Reform proposals, is necessary.

 

Many in the community consider community engagement is something that Councils are poor at. The Government’s local government reform package must therefore include a look into community engagement.

Much of the problem with community engagement is that council’s hands are tied. Tied in regulation that is not applicable to the world today. Regulation that is a one size fits all approach.

Replacing therefore the current prescriptive community engagement requirements in the Local Government Act with a more flexible ‘Community Engagement Charter’ is a no-brainer.  The consultation requirements under which we currently have to act are way too complex and prescriptive. The whole industry therefore looks forward I believe to a complete overhaul.

An overhaul in keeping with my previous utterances about our own ability to communicate with our community. An overhaul that allows individual councils the flexibility to engage with “their” community. Furthermore, an overhaul that recognises there should NOT be a one size fits all approach.

The issue of public notices also requires attention. The Act requires publication in a local newspaper. This is hardly a recipe for good communication today.

The Government has recognised that the current “informal gathering” legislation is causing distress and limiting elected members. It is true, under the existing legislation, that elected members worry that having legitimate conversations on the business of the council, will land them in trouble. We therefore need to find a way to promote transparency in councils without criminalising legitimate conversations.

The proposals however appear to be placing (yet again) an administrative burden on councils that will add cost to local government, not reduce cost. There will need to be some deep and meaningful discussion about how to balance the two, without creating another cost impediment to Councils. An impediment that will ultimately be transferred to you.

Local Government Reform Area 3 – a positive change in the main

The State Government’s Local Government Reform Area 3, one of 4 reform areas, focuses on efficient and transparent representation.

 

This Reform Area attempts to provide a range of proposals aimed at improving the local government elections in South Australia.

 

During the earlier call for reform ideas, the most popular idea received was to introduce electronic—online—voting for councils.

 

Disturbingly there is no proposal to consider this. The government is telling us that technical difficulties are too great at this time. I would however appreciate at least new legislation recognising the potential future role for electronic voting.

 

As with my blog posts on the other reform areas I agree with many (if not most) of the recommendations.

 

I agree with their proposal NOT to move to compulsory voting. Their reasoning is that enforcing compulsory voting in a postal voting system is difficult and resource intensive. My reasoning is compulsory voting, I believe, will see the potential intrusion of the political parties into local government. This is indeed the case where compulsory voting exists in the eastern states.

I also agree with the proposal to avoid local government elections being in the same calendar year as state government elections. Being in the same year can invite voter fatigue. Of note is the next election year will be 2022. As the federal government is due for election also in that year (as part of their 3 year cycle) By the time our elections come round, there will surely be voter fatigue.

I support the re-introduce the automatic enrolment of property franchise holders. Currently they have to painstakingly re-apply before each election.

Being independent, I absolutely agree with candidates having to confirm, at the time of announcing their candidacy, any affiliation with political parties. You deserve to know about any such political affiliation before you vote, not after. The same for donations received and whether or not a candidate lives in the Ward.

Candidates should, in today’s world, be provided with a choice of receiving a paper copy (as now) of the electoral role for their ward, or a digital copy of the roll. We are the only level of government where an electronic copy is denied.

The rest of the initiatives are pretty much administrative in nature. They will simply improve things without you necessarily seeing the benefit.

All in all, the recommendations in the State Government Local Government Reform Area 3, will bring about a better more transparent local government.

Lower Costs and Enhanced Financial Accountability for Local Government.

Lower costs and enhanced financial accountability for Local Government. A noble 2nd area of reform in the Government’s program of Local Government Reform.

 

The Government went to the people in March of last year with a promise to lower the cost of running local governments. A noble ambition.

Eleven recommendations have been put to you and I for comment. Many I don’t have a problem with.

Indeed, Unley already voluntarily does what is proposed in the first four recommendations. That includes having more independent members on the committee than elected members. It includes those independent members having due qualifications to sit on the committee. Furthermore, our committee is already charged as an audit and “risk” committee.

As a metropolitan Council we don’t have much trouble with doing this. I can imagine however regional councils may have trouble due to a lack of suitably qualified candidates.

 

What I do have a problem with is requiring the Auditor General to oversight of all Council Audits. 

 

This I see as one of those measures I noted in my first blog post of this series that will add to the cost of local government. Significantly.

The Auditor General has got powers of investigation over the industry already. Powers he can use at his discretion. Similarly, like the powers he used recently to oversee the workings of the Brownhill Creek Project.

To have oversight over all 68 councils each year is an overkill. The AG would have to resource this work. He would likely direct the work to the same organisations/people conducting the audits on behalf of councils now.

As the AG would be responsible for the work, he would have to oversee the work. This would require increased resourcing. This adds another layer of administration, which must add to the cost of reporting and therefore to the industry.

Doubts about the adequacy of some current or past auditing contracts would be better served by the Government setting up a register of accredited auditors. Councils can seek their auditor from this list. Restricting auditors to working more than a set number of successive years with a given council would also be worth considering.

Productivity Council Publishes Draft Report Ahead of Time.

The Productivity Council has released the draft report I recently blogged about. They have done this ahead of time to maximise the Local Government sector’s opportunity for an informed response.

 

As the Productivity Council’s report will feed into the Government’s Local Government reform agenda, I interrupt my series on the reforms to include this.

After being briefed by the PC chair yesterday I am gratified at their efforts to truly understand the industry. They have consulted well. Their draft report, on the surface, recognises the constraints under which the local government industry operates. Their report certainly does not present as the Government, I suspect, may have expected.

They recognised that just under 50% of our activities are mandated. Activities over which we have no control. It recognised the cost shifting State Governments of both persuasions thrust upon local government. The chair preferred to call this cost sharing. Nonetheless it was recognised.

It also recognised the need for local government to develop in the non-mandatory areas in keeping with the needs of their community.

Finally, it recognises that wages growth in the sector has escalated beyond CPI. This is an important conversation in that wages represent 1/3rd of our costs.

In other words, the report demonstrates that the Local Government sector, by running a tape measure over it relative to each other, as being an efficient sector. This diagnosis albeit with a caveat that there is significant room for improvement.

 

The report, which can be read here, makes three distinct recommendations. They are as follows:

 

  1. Lift the capacity of local councils to identify and address opportunities to reduce their cost base and improve their operations.
  1. Facilitating bench marking by clusters of councils through an appropriate mix of incentives for councils to participate and expectations that they will report information publicly in a format consistent with the framework.
  1. Further lower council costs by addressing aspects of the relationship between the South Australian Government and local government.

The Commission is looking for a response from us (councils and the community) on the draft report. Before preparing the final report to be presented to the minister, they are asking us 19 specific questions they are still seeking answers to.

We have until the end of next month (October) to do this in order they meet the deadlines imposed on them by the Government.

Elected Member Conflict of Interest an Area in Need of Reform.

Elected member conflict of interest is the last of the areas of concern in the Government’s 1st Reform Area. I agree. It is absolutely an area in need of reform.

The ‘elected member conflict of interest’ model in the Local Government Act is unnecessarily complicated and confusing. As a result, many councillors do not participate in debates, when their expertise would be valuable.

I have seen this play out in the current council. I myself have felt compromised on occasion, unsure of whether I have a conflict or not. Worse yet, there is potential for a member to use conflict of interest as a way of avoiding voting on a contentious issue.

The rules around elected member conflict of interest are complex. They need simplifying. They need to recognise that elected members invariably will be members of other community organisations. Be that sporting clubs, service clubs, churches, neighbourhood watch or other like community based organisations.

Being a member of any such club should not in itself constitute a conflict. Often the aims of the organisation and council are the same. A conflict should therefore centre around the original intention of the act. That is that the elected member should not personally gain.

The current provisions also cloud the area of where you or your family may live as a potential conflict of interest. A member should be able to vote on matters relevant to their street or suburb. If they can’t then their immediate neighbours do not have  a voice in Council. This played out to the consternation of the community in the last Council as they dealt with the DPA in Unley Central.

If these rules are not simplified we run the very real risk of community minded people not running in future for Council. Given this, you have to ask the question. Who do we want running for Council.

The very same people I would have thought.

Matters of Integrity, behavioural Matters and the Role of the Mayor.

Matters of Integrity must be dealt with outside of Council and include consequences for breaches.

 

Who should deal with matters of integrity I am not sure. The Government is proposing some options.

No matter what or who it will come at a cost, just as we have now. It may not matter in the end, who.

It must however be an external body, and not handled in house.

What will matter is members who have committed a breach of integrity must be subject to swift investigation and include consequences for breaches.

We must avoid the lengthy process that occurs now. The consequences must be more than just being sanctioned as happens now.

 

Behavioural matters on the other hand are probably best dealt with in house.

 

The use of outside bodies to investigate and/or make recommendations needs to be questioned. I say that in as much as this potentially extends the time of investigation. Consequences, particularly for repeat offenders must be strengthened beyond the current practice of sanctioning.

It may be that a set of behavioural standard needs to be developed. I am not sure this can reasonably be achieved however. I question too, whether this is better achieved by each council rather than have another body establish it. The current Unley Council is working through, as we speak, a similar standard.

 

Greater Controls for the Mayor

 

The Government is right to consider this and seek yours and my input. It is a vexing question. Install powers like the Speaker has in the Government’s House of Assembly and Legislative Council.

The City of Unley has not, in my time, had behavioural issues warranting such action. It is hard to imagine therefore a need for such to be addressed in a new Local Government Act.

In my time as Deputy Mayor a couple of years back, I did hear from a few Mayors of the problems they faced in their chambers. Problems that, coupled with what we hear in the Media, lead me to believe implementing some Mayoral oversight may be appropriate.

It has the potential of course to be manipulated if the Mayor was one to take advantage of this power. Any change in legislation in his area needs to have inbuilt protections to guard therefore against misuse.

Stronger Council Member Capacity and Better Conduct

Stronger Council Member capacity and better Conduct is the first reform area in the Government’s Local Government Reform Agenda. This is indeed the area of highest priority.

 

Accordingly, stronger Council Member capacity and better conduct is the first area I also am giving thought to. As I noted in my blog post of 21 August I intend to convey my thoughts in each of the areas.

I agree with doing this. The Local Government industry agrees with doing this. Apart maybe from a handful of recalcitrant elected members, that is. Members who don’t see themselves as part of the elected body team struggle with this. Those who seemingly must be seen as fighting the establishment.

The media agrees with this and, with their prodding, so do you. Poor behaviour or conduct makes for the Medias view of good press. The press push any notion of poor behaviour on the part of elected members. With this being invariably the sole source of information you have on local government you obviously will likely share the same view.

What you might read in the press however is not the problem that needs to be addressed. It is separating integrity and behavioural issues, and the mechanisms that currently exist to deal with both.

The current rules are a vast improvement on the previous rules. They create confusion however. Members can be compelled by these rules to report perceived code of conduct breaches in fear of being in breach themselves.

The proposal being put forward aims to separate matters of integrity and behavioural matters. This is a must. Matters of integrity must always have robust procedures for handling, including penalties. On the other hand, behavioural matters can and should be dealt with differently.

 

The Government is proposing 20 recommendations.

 

Generally speaking I support all of these. Some with a degree of caution.

Please look to my next two blog posts as I look more closely at the difference between matters of integrity and behavioural matters. Look also for my thoughts on increasing the powers of the Mayor and (in a separate blog post) my thoughts on conflict of interest.

Local Government Reform Recommendations are a mixed bag.

Local Government Reform Recommendations are a mixed bag but fail to address the Government’s core objective. That is my in initial observation as I endeavour to review each of their 72 recommendations.

 

As I revealed in my last blog post the Government has made 72 recommendations to inform a new Local Government Act. 72 recommendations over 4 core reform areas. Some good, some not so good. I will respond to these in later blog posts.

Up front I have to say the recommendations fail the pub test though of achieving their core objective. They will not help to reduce the cost of local government providing the services they provide you. Indeed there is every potential they will increase the cost of providing those services.

They fail to look at what Local Government could look like in the future. They focus instead on fixing perceived legislative failings. A RACE TO THE BOTTOM AS IT WHERE. The reforms appear to have us spending MORE on governance than on roads and rubbish.

The recommendations, by and large all centre around governance, good governance. As a public utility spending public money (your money) it is important that good governance is a given. It is only natural that when reviewing procedures that the focus quickly turns to solving what is not working.

Not surprisingly, this leads to increasing governance measures. So naturally, any such exercise will potentially lead not to reduced costs but to increased costs. If that happens then the obvious question that must be asked is, am I getting good value for the extra $ I will see leave my pockets. Will it be worth it?

Not only are the reform recommendations are a mixed bag, they place potentially greater legislative restrictions on how we provide for our community. So, before you respond to the Governments invitation to contribute to the conversation, may I suggest you truly consider each recommendation and what it really means. If in doubt, look to my future posts on the reform recommendations.

Local Government Reform recommendations out for Public Consultation.

Local Government Reform recommendations are finally out for Public Consultation. The Government now wants to hear from you.

 

Local government reform and cutting the cost of local government was one of the election platforms of the State Government. They lost out to the Opposition and the Minor Parties with their blunt rate capping strategy. Notwithstanding this, they have been working hard on coming up with a suite of legislative changes that are aimed at a more efficient local government sector.

The local government industry has been in conversation with them since they took office. This continues the dialogue we had with the previous government. As I have blogged before, change is needed.

They now want to hear from you, and me.

With a view to introducing a draft bill in March next year the Minister has endorsed 72 recommendations. He is keen to know what we all think about these proposed changes. We all have until November 1st to provide our feedback.

If you have an interest in how local government might best serve you, here is perhaps your best chance. Go to the DPTI website and read through the recommendations.

If you have an opinion on any of them please make it known through their have your say. You can do this on the have your say page.

The 72 Local Government reform recommendations are spread over 4 areas.

The areas are as follows:

In summary, the proposals for reform are—

Reform Area 1 | Stronger Council Member Capacity and Better Conduct

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Reform Area 2 | Lower Costs and Enhanced Financial Accountability

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Reform Area 3 | Efficient and Transparent Local Government Representation

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Reform Area 4 | Simpler Regulation

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While this plays out they are also awaiting the report from the Productivity Commission. When their report is received it will sit alongside the survey results to inform their 1st draft bill.

I will be contributing, not just through the submission from Unley Council, but on my own volition. Watch out for future blogs for my thoughts.

Serious Local Government Reform

Serious Local Government Reform is about to commence with an inquiry into local government costs and efficiency.

The State Government has asked the South Australian Productivity Commission to investigate local government. They have asked them to examine the trends in council costs and the efficiency and the drivers behind these trends. In order to get it right, they will consult local government and other key stakeholders.

This is all good news for me as I indicated in my blog back on May 24.

The LGA is seeking feedback from member councils to inform a sector-wide submission. Therefore, they will be hosting a workshop session with the Productivity Commission.

On your behalf, I intend to attend this session. As a result, I expect to get a good understanding of the approach they will be taking.

The inquiry will examine trends in the costs of local government and the drivers of these costs. It will also develop and analyse measures of efficiency resulting from the trends they have discovered. Likewise, it will identify ways that might be used by councils to measure and improve performance.

The exercise will result in the Commission providing advice and recommendations on options for improving efficiency in local government operations.

Council Rates AnalysisAs the table shows, your rates have increased well ahead of the CPI. They have also risen in excess of the LGPI (Local Government Price Index).

The Commission will identify the drivers of the increase in your rates.

This may include changes to the scope of services provided by councils. It will also identify changes in the environment within which councils operate. Likewise it will reveal ratepayer preferences for greater levels of service.

A final report is expected to be ready for submitting to the Parliament by November this year. I look forward to the results of this serious approach to Serious Local Government Reform.

Ombudsman Code of Conduct Concerns focuses on the trivial not serious.

The State Ombudsman, Wayne Lines, has spoken up this week on a topic that goes to the heart of one of the central reasons for Local Government reform. His code of conduct concerns is one area that the Local Government Industry is pushing hard to see changed.

 

We need tougher sanctions against those who are guilty of serious breeches. More on that however in a later blog post.

His code of conduct concerns however is asking Councils to stop the silliness. To stop making claims of a trivial nature.

Wayne Lines-OmbudsmanIn recent history there have been many reports of elected members making frivolous claims against one another. This brings the industry into disrepute. These claims take up the resources of the Ombudsman. His time can be better spent on the more serious. The ICAC likewise.

Trouble is the Act requires members to lay claims against others they believe to be contravening the Act. Failure to so do can cause a claim being made against them.

Not long after the Office of Public Integrity was formed, I remember him saying to a group of councillors that he has no interest in pursuing such. Legal advice however has interpreted the law literally. Ever since the industry and the ICAC have been calling for changes.

Here at the City of Unley we hopefully have a mature and adult approach to elected member behaviour. The current Council is working through a charter of behaviour that we will all sign up to when complete.

The Governments proposed probe through the Productivity Commissioner into local government should look into this.

New probe into council spending to push reforms

New probe into council spending to push reforms is the headline today in the IN Daily on line news. This spells the next chapter in the push for Local Government Reform.

 

Having failed in its attempt to cap council rates, the Government is now promoting they intend  to establish new probe into council spending to push reforms by the state’s Productivity Commission. This is good news in my opinion.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall and Transport Minister Stephen Knoll (AAP Image/Kelly Barnes)

I welcome this move as a construction move. I expect the local government industry will too. Certainly, the article indicates the LGA president (Sam Telfer) is in support. We will no doubt discuss this among ourselves in the next short period of time.

Investigating what is a myriad of differences in what the various councils do and how the fund them is the right approach to reform. This will definitely be of benefit to the local government industry.

Each council should eagerly participate in this exercise. They should also be eager to see the results. Such an exercise would help in our efforts to gauge our performance against other councils.

We often try to compare ourselves to other councils. We do so as a guide to how well we may or may not be performing. That has always proved most difficult. It is because of the differences between us in how we go about things. Likewise in how we fund them. Furthermore, it is how we record them.

I would expect your elected representatives will be better informed in decision making. Our administration likewise will have more confidence with what they may put before the elected members. The big benefit will be yours however.  You can then better value what your Council is doing for you compared to what others are doing for their communities.

Done right and down well however will take some significant resources. I expect it will take some serious time too.

Political Ties Part Only of Wider Suite of Council Reforms.

Council reforms are back on the media Agenda. But we need a wider suite of Council reforms.

The Local Government reforms being advocated however are too limited. They are restricted to one issue only, that being Candidates declaring prior to the elections any political ties. We therefore need a wider suite of council reforms

Cr Don Palmer. Providing Local Leadership and Working For You

Such a narrow focus as this does not serve us well. Neither the reputation of local government, nor the opportunity for positive change.

I whole heartedly support such disclosures prior to running for election rather than after the dust has settled. If we want improved Local Government into the future however, we need to be discussing a much wider suite of Council reforms. Reform focused on elected members and more broadly focused industry reforms.

Yes. Reform of Local Government Reform is needed. It will come.

The Industry knows it and is advocating for it. The Government signalled prior to its election that it sees reform in the local government as essential.

The State Opposition prior to Christmas promoted its own reform agenda. And the Independents in the State Parliament are also for change.

Venturing down this road in 2019 (and we should) should see a focus on a wider suite of council reforms however. Wider than has been placed before the public thus far.

At the very least, the following bullet point list needs to included in any reform package.

  1. Election reform should include disclosure of where a candidate lives and prior to the election.
  2. Election reform should also allow all candidates to have digital copies of the electoral roll for their ward.
  3. Likewise, election reform should allow also for digital voting.
  4. Strengthening of the Elected Member Code of Conduct to give it some teeth and legal muscle.
  5. Develop guidelines, procedures and templates to allow the voluntary implementation of the Local Government (Boundary Adjustment) Amendment Act 2017.
  6. Improving performance of Councils and creating best practice by using a more understandable means of bench marking.
  7. Investigating other revenue opportunities to reduce the reliance on rates.
  8. Likewise, to reduce the reliance on rates, improving mandatory revenue options to achieve cost recovery-user pays.
  9. Streamlining the industrial relations processes into an industry standard.
  10. Clean up the auditing processes of Local Government.

I look forward to providing local leadership in the coming months to encouraging this wider suite of council reforms.

Is the LGA Lunatic Asylum correct in declaring there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA?

As covered in my recent Lunatic Asylum blog post a claim being made by many elected members in the industry. This includes from within Unley Council.

They claim there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA?

LGA LogoCity of Unley logoIndeed, two questions have been asked in our chamber along these very lines. Questions based on there being no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA.

Answering the first question, to access these services the City of Unley invests $ 55,000.00 per annum.

Our membership entitles Unley of the services of the LGA in both advocacy and assistance.

The LGA is a representative body. Accordingly, it succeeds on the input of its members.  My blog “Are Your Leaders Showing Leadership or Merely Expert Spectators?”examines this observation.

Membership provides us with the following opportunities:

  • For us to share experiences with the wider local government industry;
  • To learn from each other;
  • To work together to find solutions for common obstacles; and
  • Make our work more cost-effective.

This is difficult to monetise. Anyone who is a member of any other association would recognise this. Whether in a sporting club, a social club, or a church, members recognise the need to have an association.

Businesses often ally themselves to an association. Even the trade union movement and all the Unions recognise this through the Council of Trade Unions.

Rate payers fund our membership. Let’s examine some of the benefits.

LGA advocacy is invaluable.

While we may obtain some grant funding by way of direct negotiation, we still need the LGA. We simply do not have the resources to be in continuous dialogue with the State or Federal Government.

We believe we are in the running for some funding for the King William Road redevelopment. Due to the advocacy on the part of the LGA this takes much pressure off the budgeting of this necessary project.

They influenced the implementation of the State’s new planning system.Likewise they provided input into the new Planning and Design Code. This because we we could not have done so on our own with some consistency with other Councils. Consequently, one recent major win here was their successfully obtaining relief for councils from contributing to the SA Planning Portal contributions. Sorry but I can’t remember how much this was but it was significant.

They have made submissions with our input to the State Government on the Community Engagement Charter, Design Code and Accreditation Scheme. Likewise they have advocated on the e-planning portal. This has resulted in a 12-month delay and a saving to councils upwards of $24,000.00.

The LGA provides direct assistance in several key areas.  Thankfully this can be measured financially.

Education and training available through the LGA would cost us at least $ 65,000.00 pa if we were to source like programs ourselves.

Just keeping up with legal changes confronting Councils and delegations and authorisations adds $ 10,000 pa to our costs.

Financial assistance is a major benefit. They provide this by way of low cost loans via their finance arm. As a result they save the 68 councils an average over $100,000.00 pa each. Most noteworthy, some Councils have tested this over time. Their investigations have concluded that the LGAFA to be the best avenue of low cost loans.

Likewise, the workers compensation scheme and the mutual liability scheme save on average across the 68 councils around $ 500,000 each.

This year is an election year. Because of their resources the LGA provides the bulk of the cost of achieving this, saving us around 0.5 FTE and a cost of $ 50,000.00. Especially relevant this is the same as the membership fee.

In conclusion, I suggest anyone suggesting there is no benefit to Councils being a member of the LGA is not demonstrating leadership.

Are Your Leaders Showing Leadership or Merely Expert Spectators?

I remember reading once that before you can be a leader you need to be able to follow. Can I ask are your community leaders showing leadership? Or are they merely spectators?

I also remember being a member of a club whose whole 20 some membership formed the management committee. At meetings of this club a group would sit in the background talking about what was happening in their lives outside the club. They would then complain as soon as the meeting was complete about the poor decisions being made by the committee.

Another memory was attending a seminar where the speaker spoke about “the exerts are all in the grandstand”.

He spent 45 minutes differentiating between those on the field and those in the grandstand. He talked of the athletes making mistake after mistake but getting back up again. Of how they left their guts on the field.

He then spoke of those in the grandstand. Those self-appointed experts who spent the entire match criticising those game enough to put their bodies on the line. Those who pulled apart and examined every mistake and who called for the sacking of some of the gladiators.

Back to you! Does this portray your community leader/s. Or do those representing your community on Council have vision. Are they leaders showing leadership.

Are they prepared to enter the debate. Prepared to explore, examine, and be prepared to make decisions. To be part of the solution.

Do they do this at Council level. Do they then also contribute at an LGA level?

In other words, are your leaders showing leadership or are they simply spectating and/or complaining. Do they sit back at Council level, wait for others to move motions and then criticise?

Do they help you through the bureaucracy, whether at Local level or at State and Federal level or do they simply criticise Council staff or the various government departments?

Listen to what your leaders are currently saying about membership of the LGA.

In November you have the chance of rewarding your leaders or replacing them, if you believe they aren’t, with someone who will provide the leadership you deserve.

Time to make sure our Credit Card policy is working as it should.

After the recent media interest, it is time to make sure our Credit Card policy is working as it should. This is the recommendation of our Audit & Governance Committee.

As I indicated in my first blog on this topic, Unley has a written policy on the use of credit cards.

It is not however a Credit Card policy. Accordingly, it is the Corporate Purchase Card Policy.

First of all, we only issue credit cards to officers who regularly minor purchases. Most of all, elected members aren’t. 

We introduced the use of corporate credit cards in 2013. We did this in response the growing on-line supply market and to business demand for an efficient procurement options at local stores. Due also, to transacting with stores that do not offer business accounts.

Credit cards are a low cost and efficient procurement option for low value, low risk purchases. Consequently, the use of credit cards has resulted in a decrease in the use of petty cash, which is a less transparent process.

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As at the 30 June 2017, Council had issued 30 cards to employees, and their use last financial year was about 2% of total expenditure.

The review will assess the following:

  • the operational business need for credit cards.
  • the level of cards issued.
  • current policies and procedures.
  • record keeping practices.
  • appropriateness of expenditure incurred.
  • level of internal controls required.

The review will therefore identify improvement opportunities in use, policies, systems, reporting and supply management. 

In addition to this review, mandatory educational sessions will be held for for staff to re-educate them about appropriate use and their obligations as cardholders. 

The internal audit report will be presented to the next meeting in May 2018 of the Audit & Governance Committee.

CONCLUSION

The aim of the audit of our Credit Card policy will be to provide a clear picture of areas for improvement, process controls, access to policies and the use of reporting tools to continually review and monitor use. 

Alleged Refusal has Unley Drawn into Crackdown on Credit Cards

In the wake of the reported goings on at the City of Onkaparinga the State Auditor General has advised of a Crackdown on Credit Cards. He will be investigating the use of credit cards in Local Government.

 

If what has happened at the City of Onkaparinga is anything to go by this is an appropriate action by the Auditor General. I look forward to the results of his investigation.

As you would expect the media has jumped on this Crackdown on Credit Cards. They have suggested that the City of Unley was one of three councils who refused to respond to a series of questions put to all Councils.

That is not correct. We did respond.  Our reply was not received prior to their own tight deadline. They therefore reported as a refusal to answer. The journalist has promised to correct this on the electronic version of the storey.

Unley has a written policy on the use of cards. A policy labelled the Corporate Purchase Card Policy. Council issues cards to officers who are regularly exposed to making minor purchases.

Cards v Petty Cash

As with all organisations and/or businesses, Councils in the past used a petty cash system to process minor purchases.

The use of cards has been identified as a way of transacting in a more efficient manner. Rather than use the old-fashioned messy petty cash system. It is also a more transparent method of transacting than a petty cash system.

 

Our Policy

Our policy is quite explicit in that:

Each Card has a monthly limit imposed on it. It is for official business only. The policy does not allow private purchases under any circumstance.  Nor does it permit cash advances.

A valid tax invoice must be issued with each purchase, clearly stipulating what the purchase was for and any GST applicable.

Is that not the way it should be?

 

The Future of Local Government-Local Government in Crisis

Local Government in Crisis was the topic of a summit I attended recently on behalf of the City of Unley in Melbourne.

 

As testimony that local government (worldwide) is in crisis the leaders of the summit sited the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. To build on this a key note speaker spoke of the crisis being faced by the City of London.

 

Curious examples I would have thought. An outsider being elected to the post known as the leader of the free world. A sovereign country leaving the European Union. The London Council, more like a State Parliament here.

Local Government in Crisis

Truthfully Governments, we all know, are in something of a crisis worldwide as evidenced by the examples given above. Does this drill down to local governments is the question to be answered?

 

Councils over in New South Wales it could be argued are in crisis. Theirs’s however is not one of people being disillusioned with them. It is under the pressure of forced amalgamations being imposed by the State Government. The people there indeed are actually fighting their State Government in support of the current Local Government model.

 

And back here in Adelaide the LGA has conducted a survey which has indicated that local government is the most trusted level of government in this state. A far cry from what I was hearing in Melbourne.

 

Local Government to lead the way, not Local Government in Crisis

 

Backed by these last two observations what I do agree coming out of the Summit is that Local Government “can” lead the way to correcting the disillusionment in Government that the Trump, Brexit factor shows exists. So far from the catch cry being local government being in crisis it should be local government to lead the way in healing public government relations.

 

In other words, I agree with the manifesto that came out of the Summit. A manifesto that rests on a belief that the state of the nation and the health of our society depend on community-driven action in the neighbourhood, not just decisions made in parliaments or boardrooms.

 

Put another way, the crisis facing governments worldwide can only be addressed by a localist approach. And that my friends is the strength of Councils similar in size to the City of Unley.

 

 

Unley under attack

Unley under attack is the consistent image out there right now, ever since the the clock turned over to 2016 and for a myriad of reasons.

While we believe we have been working hard to improve the community of Unley others have not seen it this way. They have found reason to attack us it seems daily in the first two months of the year. The attacks have been continuous with little time to come up for air before copping another salvo.

It all started at the arrival of the new year. This was when Eastern Courier Columnist Andrew Faulkner denigrating council over it’s allocating  $2.0 m under “general” in its accounts.  This article insinuated impropriety on our part. My blog of 21 January hopefully put it into context. Abiding by the legislation that governs us has made us to look like we are guilty of something sinister.Unley Paid Parking

This was followed with criticism by the Minister for Transport. While were looking after our rate payers, he has us as being greedy by fleecing and discouraging public transport use against his governments policies.

My blog of 26 February responded to the messages out there at the time. Curiously his diatribe about going behind his back seems focused on only one street. The other street in our trial IS fortunately on council land I am assured and he has not commented on this street.

With little time to breath we then saw local state MP for Unley David Pisoni criticising our 2nd generation tree policy. This is currently out for public consultation. His observations, welcomed as part of the consultation, but which were made in public indicate we are going to decimate our tree population. This is curious as the intent of the policy is to ensure we protect our tree assets by having a targeted replacement program over time rather than wait and find we have to replace most of our trees in a short time frame because they have come to the end of their life around the same time.

Then to finish it off (I hope) West Torrens Mayor John Trainer (a resident of Unley) purportedly has spoken with us about a concern he has with sight lines at one of our intersections (one I suspect he uses regularly) which I am sure we will investigate. It becomes a public claim however (don’t know how) keeping the media pressure on Unley.

Of course in the background to all this and which all this feeds into is the ongoing murmurings of those who would see Local Government removed in favour of the State Government looking after local matters such as which street should be upgraded and which park should have improvements. In my opinion and irrespective of how it may have been reported we are seeing why Local Government should stay.

Can you surely expect the State Government to be as interested as we are in the local community. I think not.

 

 

Federal Government Sabotages Local Government Recognition

The Government may have spelled the demise of the Local Government Recognition in the upcoming referenda by not understanding how the opposition and minor parties weer going to vote on the legislation required to allow the referenda to proceed.

The result, an absolute and unfair disparity between the funding being made available for the yes vs the no votes. The No vote argument is getting very little funding and the press is up in arms. Rightfully so too.

The perception will be and is we are conning you by making sure you only get the yes argument.

Here is the rub. The Government determined they would fund the yes and no vote campaigns based on the vote in the lower house.

Well Guess What!

The vote in favour of the question being put at a referenda was 

                                              

                                                                               Yes      148

                                                                                No         2                       

                                                                               Whoops!