Victoria’s Napthine government will put the performance of state’s local government sector on very public display after it revealed it setting up a new standardised system of council reporting statistics comparable to the Gillard government’s highly controversial MySchool website.
To be known as ‘My Council’ the new online transparency mechanism is intended to keep local governments openly accountable and is part of the broader Performance and Reporting Framework (PFR).
The Napthine government says it wants to allow Victorians to see how their councils are performing against a range of indicators and the move to create the new council league tables comes as a result of the government’s funding announcement of $2.5 million to deliver a raft of new accountability measures.
The move to very publicly expose council performance to the antiseptic of sunlight is part of a wider plan to provide Victorian ratepayers with a greater understanding of how council decision making operates and aims to provide unprecedented access to information on council finances and performance data.
With a Victorian state election scheduled for November 2014, the incumbent Coalition government is keen to act on two Victorian Auditor-General’s Office reports that were critical of a lack of council transparency and accountability under the previous Labor government.
Minister for Local Government Tim Bull reckons it will assist councils to compare their performance and hopefully lead to the sharing of information and best practice.
Mr Bull said the reforms would make it easier for people to see where their rates are going – and for councils to report on performance.
“People will be able to use the ‘My Council’ style website to see how their council compares with other similar councils, how their rates are being spent and whether they are getting value for money, which will in turn help drive improvements across the local government sector,” Mr Bull said.
Although work on the new website has yet to begin, that hasn’t stopped local government representative bodies from ex pressing their concern that such a system may give metropolitan councils an unfair advantage over more cash-strapped regional councils.
The Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) has offered its support for the PFR in helping councils in accountability, but offered a rather cautious perspective on the state government’s launch of the site.
VLGA President Sebastian Klein said providing consistent data for councils to engage with their communities fulfils a real need, “but there is the risk that the website will unfairly pit councils against each other in a pointless ‘league table’”.
“It really needs to consider the different circumstances between metro and regional councils,” Mr Klein said.
He said that a website alone is not enough to improve council performance.
“The bulk of the money should be spent on making sure councillors can continue to have honest, meaningful conversations with their community members about rates and services,” he said.
Mr Klein suggested that the PFR should be much more than an “annoying compliance tool”, as it provides a further opportunity for councils to actively engage with its communities about its priorities.
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