Reducing the reporting burden on local government    

Councils in NSW feel they have to spend more time reporting on the work they do than on the work itself, but there is a solution, writes Annalisa Haskell.

Every year NSW councils are asked to deliver upwards of 70 reports or sets of unique information to multiple state government agencies. This amounts to hundreds of separate data points in different reporting regimes, all collected and dispersed at a great cost to councils.

There’s no argument that when considering foundational regulations such as integrated planning and reporting obligations, financial and governance reporting and the critical processes around special rate variations, council reporting underpins the effective operation of local government in NSW.

But it’s the additional reporting burdens on councils that can have the most impost on time and resources.

Annalisa Haskell

The list of reports is long and diverse, affecting all areas in council from flood control, environmental protection and waste management to public land reclassifications, food premises and parking meters – to name just a few.

The staggering tally of annual reporting has been compiled and reviewed by the Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) in its Draft Report – Review of reporting and compliance burdens on Local Government – January 2016.

The purpose of this work, as directed by the Minister of Local Government under the previous Fit for the Future reforms, was to identify inefficient or unnecessary council planning, reporting and compliance obligations imposed on councils by the NSW Government through legislation, policies or other means, and assist to find solutions.

The draft recommendations still sit awaiting action.

At the LG Professionals Australia, NSW’s Local Government Conference earlier this month local government professionals were vocal about this seemingly unnecessary delay given council red tape reduction is such a high focus for them now that other priority areas have been addressed.

The reporting burden was explored in a panel discussion with IPART and Office of Local Government, along with senior council representatives, which identified lost opportunities for streamlining councils’ data collection. There was the admission that in local government there is “a habit of complicating things.”

LG Professionals NSW president Barry Smith urged the sector not to wait for the final determinations from the IPART report or the much-delayed review of the OLG Reporting Framework but to act together strategically in solving the broader issues of streamlining data capture.

“The foundations of a strong sector-driven data solution are already in place and we have the opportunity to do something great,” he said.

Other local government professionals suggested there is an opportunity to align councils’ various required data submissions with the existing annual data collection process of the Australasian LG Performance Excellence Program.

“We have the opportunity to present a solution to government and solve our own problems,” one remarked.

The will and the way

There is sector enthusiasm for a solution that lies in having a single, annual process and platform of data that’s produced once a year and is then accessed by government authorities.

With the majority of NSW councils now engaged in the performance excellence program, the best path to such a solution would be to work on expanding the program’s capabilities rather than reinventing the wheel, the conference heard.

We could start to align all data collection needs in consideration of what IPART has identified as local government’s weighty obligations in the current multifaceted, often uncoordinated and extremely burdensome system.

Annalisa Haskell is CEO of Local Government Professionals, NSW.

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