By Michael Giles
IT’S like getting your school report card. When it’s good, your parents are full of praise, but when it’s bad, it’s either wrong or you look for the positives.
That’s pretty much how the South Gippsland Shire Council’s administration has approached what is essentially a poor report card from the community in the independent, annual Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey.
The report says two things – both bad.
It highlights how low the community rated the council that was sacked by the state government in June 2019, 33 out of 100 for “overall performance”.
And secondly, while there has been some improvement under the state-government appointed administrators, satisfaction levels have really only returned to the poor levels that existed under the next-to-last regime.
But that didn’t stop the shire administrators spinning up some positives in their media statement last week.
“South Gippsland Shire Council has received its 2021 Community Satisfaction Survey Results with overall satisfaction of council’s performance increasing from 33 per cent of satisfied residents in 2019 and 36 per cent in 2020 to 47 per cent in 2021.”
Never mind that the scores of between 50 and 46 in the preceding seven years were all below the state average and below the satisfaction levels in other ‘Large Rural Councils’ like South Gippsland.
“Other areas of improvement from 2020 include community consultation, advocacy/lobbying, making community decisions, overall council direction and value for money,” they say.
But no, community consultation was rated at 48 prior to the last disastrous regime, 44 now, advocacy/lobbying and making community decisions are back to where they were but it’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
The shire did acknowledge areas for improvement in its statement:
“Areas where council has decreased from 2020 to 2021 include satisfaction with sealed local roads (down from 47 to 43 and well below the shire’s peers at 50), customer service and waste management.”
Once the shining light of South Gippsland’s annual survey results with acceptance levels as high as 70 per cent in recent years, community satisfaction has plummeted to 56 per cent, well below both that of comparable councils 68 per cent and state-wide 70 per cent.
Satisfaction with waste management services is off the boil too, down from 70 per cent satisfaction last year to 61 per cent this year – what happened there?
But here comes the spin…
“However, despite the decrease, customer service and waste management remain two of council’s highest performing areas with a score of 56 per cent and 61 per cent satisfaction respectively.”
South Gippsland Shire chair administrator Julie Eisenbise said she was “proud to see an upwards trend in most areas during the Administrators term” but acknowledged further work to build community trust was required.
“During our term as administrators we have spent a lot of our time improving the governance and reputation of South Gippsland Shire Council, so it is promising to see an overall trend of improvement in most performance areas,” Ms Eisenbise said.
“When we were first appointed satisfaction with overall performance was 33 per cent, then 36 per cent in 2020 and now this has risen to 47 per cent in 2021. It clearly outlines that we are headed in the right direction and doing the work to restore public confidence.
“The Community Satisfaction Survey results are a touchpoint for council every year that we use in conjunction with our own discussions with community members to determine how we are performing and where there are areas to improve.”
And the ‘get-out’ clause…
“There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic would have had some influence over these results and our ability to perform some services, but regardless our hope is to continue to see improvements in our service,” said Ms Eisenbise.
The Community Satisfaction Survey is conducted by the Victorian government’s contractor, JWS Research. The survey sample involves interviewing 400 local residents.
The shire claims, however, in another attempt to detract from the overall poor level of community satisfaction, that only 53 per cent had contact with council in the last 12 months.
What? They didn’t get their rubbish bin picked up or use a local road? Come on!
A summary of the 2021 Community Satisfaction Results is available at southgippsland.vic.gov.au/communitysatisfaction.
Top 10 points from survey
1. THE survey found there was nothing that the council was doing significantly better than the state average or the average at comparable shires.
2. There were four areas where satisfaction was significantly worse; the condition of sealed local roads, consultation and engagement, community decisions, and lobbying.
3. Seventy-two per cent of people were generally happy with the shire’s waste management efforts, rating it very good, good or at least average.
4. South Gippslanders aged 35 to 49 were most satisfied with the shire’s performance overall but men in general were not at all satisfied with the shire.
5. People aged 18 to 34 were not at all happy with the shire’s attitude to customer service.
6. Shire residents aged 65 and over were more likely to be happy with the way the shire managed rural roads, but people aged 35-49 marked the shire low on road maintenance.
7. For some reason, the people of Tarwin Valley Ward (Leongatha to Mirboo North area) and residents aged 35-49 years were not happy with the overall direction being taken by council.
8. Although the community is more satisfied with council’s efforts on sealed local roads, off a low base, the survey still found it was “Council’s most poorly rated service area and the most cited area in need of attention”.
9. The satisfaction report also said Council “needs to reverse the declining trend apparent in consultation and engagement by ensuring it makes a concerted effort to reach out to residents about local community issues and its decision making.
10. Almost two in five residents (39 per cent) rate the value for money they receive from Council in infrastructure and services as ‘average’. A similar proportion (37 per cent) rate it as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’, while only 20 per cent rate the value for money received as ‘very good’ or ‘good’.