Most ratepayers and businesses in New South Wales have strong opinion about how well their council is serving their needs, but ask for hard data to sort the myths from the metrics and you could be in for a wait longer than the average Mayor stays in their job.
At least that was the case until this month when a group of crafty and cash-strapped councils under increasing pressure demonstrate their value launched their own authoritative and independently verified yardstick with which to compare their performance with other municipalities thanks to a new do-it-yourself benchmarking tool that threatens to take a serious bite out of the lucrative, if slightly ambiguous consulting services market.
Masterminded by the Local Government Managers Association NSW (LGMA NSW) and PwC, the new Local Government Operational and Management Effectiveness Survey has been developed by local government professionals and sector experts who donated their time to collaboratively design the new research tool.
Around 70 councils will participate in the big data collection sweep using the new tool, a number that equates to around half of the state’s local government sector being included in the initial sample.
Expected to commence over the next few months, the performance survey project is slated to run for three years in collaboration with councils and the professional services firm.
There is certainly plenty to work with given the increasing pressure on councils to deliver far more services, increase efficiency and cut waste against the backdrop of a static to shrinking revenue base.
According to LGMA NSW, the new survey will cover leadership, financial management, operations management, risk management and workforce management.
LGMA NSW said the survey complements and supports all the important performance reporting initiatives currently in development by the Office of Local Government.
The new tool will be accessible to all types of local governments including metropolitan, coastal, regional and rural councils, which will have access to “high quality” industry benchmarking information, tailored reporting and “sophisticated” PwC research analytical techniques.
LGMA NSW claims the research from PwC will be “at an affordable cost”.
Early feedback from “big metropolitan” councils has indicated that they are “pleased” to be able to access a sophisticated management tool that “not only complements their existed (often extensive) reporting, but also assists the entire sector develop.
However small regional councils that don’t normally have the huge funds allocated to extensive performance assessments were more impressed by the big savings involved in using such a management tool.
These councils indicated that they are “excited to see” that they will be able to access the highest level of business reporting without having to pay the usual ‘big end of town’ consultancy rates.
LGMA NSW chief executive officer, Annalisa Haskell said the tool is a “testament” to the commitment of the Association’s members and the NSW local government sector as a whole.
Ms Haskell said the councils have decided to “take control of their own destiny” by building a unique understanding of the sector as well as their own council within it.
“We are so pleased to be able to deliver tangible benefits and real savings across all councils who will participate,” Ms Haskell said.
She said PwC “took up the challenge” to operate beyond the traditional parameters by “voluntarily rolling up their sleeves” and working collaboratively “as true leaders” directly with LGMA NSW investing their time in creating this “unique opportunity” for the sector.
“They trusted and supported us through the pilot stage with our members’ councils and have added considerable value to the thinking and input for the final design,” she said.
The fact that the local government sector has banded together to create such a tool is highly significant because it puts councils in a much desired position to identify and assess any management or operational problems before they spiral out of control.
The ability of self-assessment is especially important given the financial performance assessments from the NSW Treasury Corporation (TCorp) in early 2013 that presented a grim view of the financial position of many councils.
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