‘Stop inhouse fighting’ they say

IN ANYONE’S book, a score of 46 out of 100 is a failure.
That’s how 621 local residents scored the South Gippsland Shire’s overall performance in the annual Community Satisfaction Survey released last week.
In fact, 54 per cent of respondents said they were “dissatisfied” with council’s overall performance.
But the shire has tried to “spin” the results of the survey in a media release this week, headlining that “most residents surveyed think Council’s performance has stayed the same over the past 12 months”.
They said: “Close to half of residents are satisfied with Council’s overall performance, giving a rating of six or more out of ten.”
The statement also has the Mayor Cr Lorraine Brunt saying: “On a positive note it is encouraging to see significant increases in areas such as sealed local roads and customer service this year”.
But that’s not a fair representation of the overall thrust of the report or the response from residents.
And it doesn’t help that the report offers no benchmarking against other Large Rural Councils or the state average, as in previous years, from which to compare this year’s results.
Last year the state average for satisfaction with a council’s overall performance was 59/100 and 54/100 for similar councils.
In noting the most common areas for improvement mentioned in feedback, the statement lists reduced/fairer rates, rubbish collecting, recycling, listening to the community and more transparency and accountability.
But it neglects to mention that of the 54 per cent who said they were dissatisfied with council’s overall performance, 14 per cent said council should stop wasting money on its own needs including new shire offices, and 13 per cent wanted “more harmony amongst councillors, improve their reputation and stop inhouse fighting”.
The toxic environment that exists within the elected council at South Gippsland is clearly not helping perceptions but it is not covered in the shire’s statement or the comments by Cr Brunt.
Here’s what the authors of the independent survey, Key Research, said in their executive summary:
“Residents rate the image and reputation of Council poorly and are not recognising that rates represent value for money. Image and reputation have a high impact on overall perceptions and demonstrating quality of leadership, financial management and being trustworthy has potential to improve overall perceptions,” the report said.
On those points, 52 per cent of those surveyed were very dissatisfied with the shire’s “financial management”, 46 per cent had little or no “trust and faith” in the council and 46 per cent scored “leadership” at the lowest possible level.
They’re simply not happy with the council.
A whopping 37 per cent of those surveyed gave the shire the lowest rating for “overall performance”, scoring it at 1-4 out of 10.
And an astonishing 45 per cent were “very dissatisfied” with the overall value for money offered by the shire while 44 per cent were “very dissatisfied” with the council’s “overall reputation”.
The South Gippsland Shire Mayor Councillor Lorraine Brunt, is described in the media release as being “pleased with the work undertaken by Key Research” while claiming the new research provides more detail on the data behind the headline figures and “in time this will give us more understanding on how to start changing perceptions”.
She does, however, go on to acknowledge “results in many areas are quite disappointing” but her comments are buried at the bottom of the statement.
“There is always a tension between people who want more services and better facilities and those who want to see rates and service levels reduced,” Cr Brunt is quoted as saying.
“We strive to find that balance in how we allocate resources according to the Council Plan and the four-year Strategic Resource Plan.
“On a positive note it is encouraging to see significant increases in areas such as sealed local roads and customer service this year. “Hopefully they’re the start of a pattern that will emerge over the next couple of years,” she said.
The community’s high regard for the shire’s customer service is indeed its shining light, either very satisfied (57%) or satisfied (16%) with the performance in that area but it’s hard to claim roads as a win.
Coming off a very low approval base in recent years, 45 per cent said they were happy with the state of sealed roads this year but only 30 per cent said they were happy with local gravel roads.
“Finally, I’d like to thank the 621 people who took the time to give us their feedback. I appreciate that it took some time to complete. The survey is a significant investment by Council and a legislative requirement, so it’s vital that people continue to engage with this research as we move to quarterly surveys after July,” Cr Brunt concluded.
In an effort to get the most out of the survey, the shire is seeking the direct responses provided to Key Research by the residents.