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When efficiency isn't efficiency, value isn't value and sustainable is unsustainable.

Please see Manningham's 'Council Plan 2013-2017' and 'Financial Strategy 2013-2023'.

The State Government pushes Manningham Council to reduce costs. Manningham Council uses words like 'efficiency' and 'value' and say they have achieved a 1% efficiency gain but this efficiency gain is totally meaningless and irrelevant.

 

The State Government pushes our Council to reduce costs.

At the June 2013 meeting of Manningham Council, two documents were presented: the Council Plan 2013-2017 and the Financial Strategy 2013-2023.

Cost reduction is only mentioned seriously in one place in these two documents.

On page 17 of the Council Plan it says,

"The state government's reform agenda ... are likely to require local government participation in the areas of controlling and reducing internal costs, review of fee for service charges, improving efficiency and technology ..."

 

This statement is in the Council Plan, not the Financial Strategy.

I would have thought this part of the State Government's Reform Agenda should take a prominent place in the Financial Strategy and have an impact upon much of it's contents. But instead it is hidden away in the Council Plan. It is not even mentioned in the Financial Strategy.

 

Manningham Council has it's own definition of 'value'.

Our Council uses words like 'efficiency' and 'value' but these words do not mean what you may think.

For instance, when Manningham council uses the word 'Value', they do not mean 'value for money'.

"We look forward to sharing the process and positive results of our efforts in achieving best value obligations for our community ... With these challenges in mind, approaches to Manningham councils continuous improvement and service review efforts are of the utmost importance and will be an essential driver in ensuring that we continue to improve the value and quality of the services we deliver for our community" (Council Plan, page 10).

It would be easy to think that the council is talking about 'value for money' here. But it would be incorrect to think this. Value, to our council, is the effectiveness or the quality of a service delivered to the community. Cost is not considered. For Manningham council, 'value' is not a cost/benefit consideration where quality services are delivered at the lowest cost.

In fact, the term 'value for money' is only ever mentioned once in these two documents and it is not as a goal or an objective for the council. Rather it appears in a question that might  be be asked of ratepayers.

The term 'value for money' is mentioned in the last question, for the last goal, on the last page of the goals and objectives for our Council. You get the impression that 'value for money' is not a high priority issue for Manningham council. In fact, Manningham council appears to be reluctant to discuss it.

The Council might ask rate payer whether they think they are getting 'value for money' from the council. (Council Plan, page 28). And this is the only place where a cost/benefit consideration is ever mentioned, as far as I can find.

 

In every other instance, the word 'value' actually means something more like 'quality' or 'effectiveness'. 'Value' to the council means how beneficial a service is for the community. Cost reduction and value for money is not really considered.

 

Manningham council also has it's own definition of 'efficiency'. 

Similarly for Manningham council, efficiency is not doing more with less or eliminating wasteful practices

"Collectively, council commits to increasing organisational efficiencies." (page 41)

"An efficient organisation that aims to continuously improve service delivery to benefit community outcomes. ... Develop and embed a continuous improvement framework within the organisation." (page 41)

 

By 'efficiency' and 'continuous improvement', the council seeks to increase the benefit that a service has to the community.

It is very easy to think the council means 'waste and cost reduction' but that is not what the council says - they want to give you the impression that is what they mean - but they actually mean something a bit different. 

Cost reduction, cost management and value for money are left out of the consideration. Efficiency is not doing more with less. It is just doing more without considering cost.

 

Manningham Council has a track record of stubbornly refusing to contain and manage costs.

 

Manningham Council makes a half-hearted attempt to reduce costs.

Our council tells us they have a 1% efficiency gain built into their financial plans. And they do. But it is totally irrelevant. This 1% saving is simply insignificant because of the scale of the waste that occurs within Manningham council.

Please let me explain.

Please read page 24 in the Council Plan carefully.

Consider some of the Council's objectives and how the council intends to measure it's performance in achieving these objectives. For instance, one set of objectives are:

"Goals and Objectives.

  • An inclusive and harmonious community that celebrates our diversity and draws strength from our differences,
  • Safe and secure households and neighborhoods, where people look out for one another,
  • A community that is involved and well connected, strengthening community spirit,
  • A community that feels a greater sense of public safety,
Measures to determine how well council achieves this goal:
  • Percentage of people who believe cultural diversity makes our community a better place to live,
  • Percentage of people who feel safe walking alone in local area during the day,
  • Percentage of people who feel safe walking alone in local area after dark,
  • Percentage of people who believe they feel part of the community,
  • Percentage of people who agree they have opportunities to volunteer and contribute to their community."

 

Council objectives give rise to a series of council actions, programs and activities. (See page 35). Each of these council programs require staff, funding, strategy and procedure documents and so on. So there is a large amount of work involved in these programs for many council staff.

Now let's consider how the council will know when it has achieved these objectives. That is, how will the council know when their job is finished?

As you probably have realized, it is very hard to say when the council has finished their work. 

Look carefully at how the Council measures it's performance against these objectives. All the measures for determining success are based on people's feelings and perceptions.

People feeling connected and feeling safe is a good thing.

But there will always be more room for people to feel 'more safe' and 'more connected'. In short, there could be a hundred years of work here, possibly more. The measures Manningham council has chosen means that this job will never really end.

This one set of objectives gives many people in the council many years of relatively easy, secure employment with a very generous pension plan waiting for them when they retire.

And this is only one of many sets of objectives the council has set for themselves. There are many more. Each set of objective has it's own programs to bring that objective about. Each program requires, staff, funding, procedures, and so on. There is a huge amount of activity in the council involved in all this.

 

How important are all these goals, programs and activity?

Is all this work helping people feel safe, connected and good about our community necessary? 

Off course, some of this work is important and necessary. For instance, one  program of importance arising from these objectives is the Council's Emergency Management Plan. This plan could be of great use, provided it is applied properly when the time comes. 

But the other activities and programs that promote a 'community spirit' and 'get to know your neighbor', etc. are probably not necessary.

Why do I say this? 

Well, we have gotten along with each other quite well and happily for over two centuries, largely without the assistance of government. Also there are many organisations, clubs, societies, privately organised activities, etc. already in the community that have very similar goals.

So why does government suddenly have to step in to manage our feelings and our friendships?

 

On the other hand, there is a role for the council to maintain the harmony of the community. Reasonable, fair, clear and even handed council by-laws greatly assist in this area.

But when it comes to people feeling safe and the friends people have, it is probably best for council focus it's efforts elsewhere, such as controlling and reducing costs.

 

Is all this council activity, work for work's sake?

I suspect it is. 

Just how much does our council spend on all this 'togetherness'?

$9,062,000 that's how much (see page 48 council plan). This is out of an income of $110 million (page 49 Council Plan) so it's about 8% of their entire income is spent on making us feel good.

That is a lot of money and work which gives a lot of council employees an easy, secure, long term job.

 

Getting back to this 1% efficiency gain.

When you consider all this unnecessary activity and 'work' the council gives itself to do, the 1% efficiency gain is actually quite irrelevant and laughable.

When you consider all this 'activity' the council gets up to and the associated costs, you realize that a very large proportion of the 'work' the council does is probably entirely unnecessary. And the money they spend on this 'activity' is simply wasted.

Why is this 1% efficiency gain irrelevant and laughable? Simply because if the council actually served the community instead of serving number one, the cost savings would be immense.

 

Manningham Council only serves the ratepayers.

Our councils will say that they serve the ratepayers and that is supposed to justify all the above  wasteful practices.

But that is simply not true. If they serve anyone, they serve themselves. If they serve you and me, they do it at incredible expense, waste and inefficiency.

What they really want is an easy, steady, secure job for life and a generous pension in retirement - all at our expense.

 

09 Aug 2013.

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