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Community Satisfaction Survey 2013.

Like most surveys conducted in the business world today, their real purpose is to prove to your boss that you are doing your job well and they should continue to employ you, or better still, give you a pay rise.

This survey is no different. But what strikes me about this one commissioned by the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) (with input from the councils), is it's sneakiness.

Please let me explain.


Representation and Empowerment.

First the DPCD wanted to make the 2013 survey more representative by surveying residents 18 years and above. The prior surveys were 'heads of households surveys' i.e. the people who actually pay the council rates bills.

This sounds very democratic. It gives you the impression that the council and the bureaucrats in the state government are trying to get a more representative picture of their performance and they are trying to to 'empower' all residents. 

This may be true. But what else does this do? I can think of the following:

  • It takes the focus of the survey away from the older generation, who actually pay the very large council rate bills, and moves the focus to a group who have probably never seen a rate bill in their life.

  • It moves the focus from people who largely expect to see value for money to a group who are largely concerned with consumption of services and who probably never see what those services cost.

  • It also takes the focus away from a group of people who probably have had a lot of experience in business and know how things should be run efficiently and moves the focus to a group of people who probably have had little experience in management.

  • It moves the focus from the older generation who have had a long time to see how the council operates and see the problems, waste and inefficiency to a group of people who probably have not had the time to make the same observations.

This change in focus would change the results of the survey. You would expect the survey to present the council in a much more favorable light.

This change is being promoted as being more representative and empowering the residents,. However it actually turns out to be something that 'empowers' the council and makes the council look good. Funny how these things work, isn't it?


However their little scheme did not work.

The odd thing is, that despite this change in focus, the council's rating actually decreased in 15 of the 18 indicators compared to the 2012 survey. (See: "Results of the Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey 2013, Attachment 1, page 8 See columns titled MCC.)


This change in focus was no accident. The council knows which age group thinks they do their job well and moved the survey towards them.

On page 7 of this satisfaction survey, it points out that those most favorable toward the council are:

  • Users of council services and;

  • 18-34 year olds.

Those least favourable toward the council are:

  • 35-49 year olds and;

  • Men aged 50+.

So the council and state government knew what they were doing. They knew that the groups MOST favorably disposed toward the council were those who used council services and younger residents and not the older age groups.


Why do you think this older age groups do not rate the council as highly?

Could it be that the people in this older age group have had the time to observe what goes on at the Council and have the private sector management experience to know how staff, resources and work should be managed? This would probably be the case for residents aged 50+.


Now Let's Turn To The Survey Questions.

There were 6 questions that were 'core' questions which were asked of all councils.

  • Overall performance last 12 months (Overall performance)

  • Lobbying on behalf of community (Advocacy)

  • Community consultation and engagement (Consultation)

  • Contact in last 12 months (Contact)

  • Rating of contact (Customer Service)

  • Overall council direction last 12 months (Council direction)

The remaining questions were 'non core' and were selected by each council. 9 of the 16 questions our council selected for their 'non core' questions relate to 'service delivery'. The last 7 relate more to policy

  • Local Roads and Footpaths

  • Recreational Facilities

  • Traffic Management

  • Appearance of Public Areas

  • Parking Facilities

  • Arts Centers and Libraries

  • Enforcement of Local Laws

  • Waste Management

  • Elderly Support Services

  • Roadside Slashing and Weed Control

  • Emergency and Disaster Management

  • Business and Community Development and Tourism

  • Lobbying on behalf of the Community

  • Informing the Community

  • Environmental Sustainability

  • Town Planning Policy

  • Planning for Population Growth in Area

This seems a reasonable spread of questions.


However there were certain questions that were not asked – and probably never will be asked.

And it is the questions that were not asked that are interesting. Our council may never ask these questions because it probably will not like what it hears.

The question I would like to have the opportunity to answer is the LAST strategic indicator in the LAST group of strategic indicators. (Draft Council Plan, 2013/2014, page 28)


The question is: Do you "believe that Council delivers value for money with respect to the services it provides"

Because our council probably never will ask this question, I would like to give my answer now:

"Definitely not. I think our council tries to take as much money as possible from the residents and then invents work for themselves to keep themselves in easy, life-time jobs with massive, generous pension payouts at the end. And the work they actually do, could be done for a fraction of the cost if they knew anything about proper management, real efficiency and cost control."


And there are some other questions the council won't ask because it might not like what it hears.

If you read the Annual Budget 2013/2014 there is a council theme called "Our Community Spirit". Our council will spend around $9 million on this in the coming financial year. They will recoup about $3 million leaving a cost of $6 million that we need to fund. (Page 12, section 2.8)

There are many worthwhile things that come under this theme such as street lighting, street cleaning, graffiti removal and so on. But there are also several other council programs which are not itemized in the budget. This gives the impression that they do not want us to know how much of our money they spend on these programs.


The council's prevention of violence against women program appears to be funded from this $9m. The issue I have with this is twofold. 


First there are violence against women programs run at the federal and state levels which already employ a lot of people and which we already fund through our taxes. The laws governing these issues are set up and prosecuted at the federal and state levels. Federal and state governments have their own programs to educate people and change people's behavior and attitude in this area (i.e. the Department of Social Services federally and at a state level by VicHealth). Does there have to be a similar program at the council level? 

Second, if you read the article "Spending money on questionable programs" further down on this new site, you will see that there are several other significant problems with this program.


Also the council's multiculturalism program is funded by this same money. Again, there are multicultural programs at the federal and state levels and there is much legislation surrounding this same issue, so our court system is involved in this as well. Again, is it necessary to spend even more money on this at a council level?


I would like to know what the residents think about - what appear to me at least - to be triplicated work-for-the sake-of-work programs.

However, I doubt that we will ever get the chance to give our opinions on these matters.  


25 Nov 2013.

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