NSW sets strict annual deadline for council complaints

By Paul Hemsley

The New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet has warned councils that they must quickly get their act together in reporting complaints made about them by constituents and ratepayers to the state government.

This firm reminder has come in the form of a circular from the chief executive of the Division of Local Government, Ross Woodward, who has written to councils to jog their complaints coordinators’ memories about adhering to the O’Farrell government’s new Model Code Procedures.

The procedures force council complaints coordinators to report a range of complaints statistics to the Division of Local Government within three months after the end of September every year.

The reporting mechanism is a key part of Premier Barry O’Farrell’s pledge to improve local government by monitoring their performance, especially in areas where people are unhappy like development application waiting times.

Complaints about councils are usually related to local government misbehaviour, misconduct, maladministration, land use planning, enforcement and regulatory powers, financial management or problems with operational services.

If there was previously reluctance to release information for fear of being named and shamed, the Division of Local Government is not entertaining delays and has said it will publish the complaint data.

The state government has imposed a strict deadline within a three month window because it claims that publishing the data is an important accountability mechanism that provides local communities with a “valuable insight” into the performance of their councils.

The state government also claims that supplying this data to be published provides the Division with the means to evaluate councils’ implementation of the new Model Code framework and whether the new framework has achieved its policy objectives.

Keen to get these datasets up and running, the Division has committed to assisting councils meet their reporting obligations by e-mailing a Model Code of Conduct Complaints Statistics Report collection form to all general managers.

The government has told general managers to ensure that complaints coordinators complete and return the collection form to the Division by 31 December 2013 in addition to reporting the required statistics to the council.

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