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The 2016 Satisfaction Survey

Every year Manningham council participates in a Community Satisfaction Survey.

I have commented on the two prior surveys, but this year, I just had to laugh.

Please see the 'Results of Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey' tabled at the 28 June 2016 Meeting of council.

So what is so humorous?


"Lets Not Upset the Council".

A private company is contracted to perform these surveys. They seem to have the view that no matter what the residents say, they must not report it in a way that upsets the council.

What I mean is this. If the community consistently responds in a way that reflects poorly on Manningham Council, then the private company, in their report, seems to always find a way to either put a positive spin on it or to otherwise minimize it.

Some might say they just being nice. Maybe not. Nearly always when Manningham council is rated poorly, you find them providing some positive support to Manningham Council.

It makes me wonder why Manningham Council even participates in this survey if they find it difficult to listen to the community responses.

Interestingly, the council gives this reason why it participates in this survey.

"The survey also provides councils with a means to fulfill some of their statutory reporting requirements as well as acting as a feedback mechanism to L.G.V." (Page 3, page 2214 minutes).

So these surveys are not primarily a matter of listening to ratepayer feedback and perceptions. Rather they help the council with their statutory reporting requirements to the state government and to Local Government Victoria (which is part of the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure).

In other words, these surveys help the council report back to their bosses in the state government. (These reports are required by law.)

But just a minute. Does Manningham council want to listen to what we have to say?


Some Examples Please.

First, let us see how does this private company sugar coats information that might not be that welcome at Manningham Council.

Here are some examples:

"Across most core and individual service measures, performance was either stable or declined compared to 2015 results. Although there were no significant improvements in 2016, the results are generally higher than the State-wide council averages." (Report, page 8)


"Whilst performance ratings on core measures had previously been out front of group averages for other Metropolitan councils, Manningham’s ratings are now up to five points behind Metropolitan averages on core measures, with the exception being Community Consultation (58), which is equal to Metropolitan averages.


However, all of Manningham’s ratings on core measures are ahead of State-wide averages. Core service measures that significantly exceed State-wide averages are Overall Performance, Sealed Local Roads, Community Consultation and Making Community Decisions. Overall Council Direction is the only exception and is one point behind State-wide ratings." (Report, pages 8 and 9)


"Council performs next best on Elderly Support Services (68) and Environmental Sustainability (64). Whilst not significant, both ratings have declined slightly between 2015 and 2016." (page 11

It seems that this private company does not want to put Manningham Council on the spot over it's poorer than expected performance rating.

They sugar coat the report by saying 'while results are down, they are still better than other councils' or 'the change is not that significant' (I assume by this they mean 'statistically significant').

But let me ask you this. If a council is concerned about continual improvement, which Manningham is, then should such a decrease in perceived performance be dismissed so easily?

Shouldn't a decrease in perceived performance be a cause for concern because it might show that real performance has actually decreased, there could be issues with staff attitudes or problems with procedures and standards not being followed. Shouldn't this be of concern to the management of Manningham council?

You would think it would.


But the council doesn't seem that concerned. How do I know this?

First, Manningham Council were quick to pick up on the report's assessment and then to find an additional reason to dismiss the results.

This is what they said in their minutes about this survey. It has been taken almost word for word from the survey report.

"Overall, on the seven core key community satisfaction index score results, Manningham City Council’s performance was either stable or declined compared to 2015. Although there were no significant improvements this year, the results are generally higher than the state-wide council averages." (Minutes, page 2213.)

We see they were quick to quote the rationalization for the poor results offered by the private company in the report. Then they also found an additional reason to not be that concerned about the result.

"According to the independent market research company undertaking the survey, across Victoria there has been a decline in the 2016 Community Satisfaction Survey results. Likewise, the overall initial feedback from neighbouring councils is that they have experienced a decline in a number of core areas." (Minutes, page 2213.)

So Manningham council reason that "we are still better than most other councils" and "other neighbouring councils have also experienced a decrease in perceived performance".

So Manningham Council suggest to themselves that they needn't be that worried about the poorer than expected results.

But again I suggest that if you are interested in continual improvement, which Manningham is, then there is no reason at all to take comfort in either of these statements. At a bare minimum you probably should investigate the results and ask how you can improve your operations and improve customer perceptions.


Results that are not entirely welcome.

Lets take a look at one community response that Manningham Council simply did not want to hear.

The question was asked, would you prefer to have a reduction is council services and a freeze on council rates?

This year, as well as last year, saw the community respond with an overwhelming YES. "We are prepared to accept a reduction in services so we can have a freeze on any increase in council rates".

Now, if you know Manningham Council, they simply don't want to hear things like this - ever. And they certainly do not want to have it put in writing with backing from the community.

It appears the private company doing the survey is also aware of this and this is how they presented the survey data:

I don't know about you, but I think the particular type of chart the private company chose to present these statistics, somehow takes away from the force of the community response.

Let me give you a different way of showing the exact same results for the first three lines of the above chart.

Here we can see clearly that a large majority of Manningham residents want a freeze on rate increases and are prepared to forgo council services to achieve this. I think the results in my chart are very clear and also make the point where this trend is going for 2016.


Now some might think that people are just being tight over money and 'uncaring' about others who may use council services. But you need to keep in mind that many families in Manningham are finding it very difficult to pay their council rates. I have examined this in detail in other articles on this web site using the council's own data and it clearly shows that many families are in financial straits. Also I have argued that the Council's rate relief program has so many conditions attached to it and is of such a small amount as to be insignificant.

I have also shown that Manningham council is quite ruthless and heartless when it comes to collecting unpaid rates. They add significant penalty interest plus threaten court action.

There is good reason for many residents to seek rate freezes and/or reductions.

However Manningham council simply does not want to hear of rate freezes or reductions. And I think the company doing the survey is doing the council a service by slightly obscuring the community response to this question.

So how did Manningham Council respond regarding this issue?

"1.26 Residents were asked if they had to choose between Council rate rises to improve local services or cuts in Council services to keep Council rates at the same level as they are now, would you prefer to see Council rate rises or would you prefer to see cuts in Council services? They were asked if this was definitely or probably. Relatively consistent with last year’s results, residents are more in favour of service cuts (51 per cent) over a rate rise (26 per cent). Another 23 per cent are undecided.

1.27 This preference for service cuts is similar to the state-wide (50 per cent) and higher than the Metro group average (47 per cent)." (Minutes page 2217)

Yes, Manningham council recognizes that the community response is significant and even above the Metropolitan average but what is interesting is there is no further emphasis put on this response. There is no action to be taken nor a plan to look into it. There is no interest why a majority of residents would respond in this way. There is no desire to understand. There is just a plain statement of the numbers.


How does Manningham Council Respond to the Survey?

How does Manningham Council Respond to the Survey overall? Are they interested in what we the people have to say?

First lets see what the private company doing the survey has to say about the purpose of the survey:

"The main objectives of the survey are to assess the performance of Manningham City Council across a range of measures and to seek insight into ways to provide improved or more effective service delivery." (Report Page 3.)

The private company sees the purpose of the survey to assess the performance of the council in the eyes of the rate-paying public. Possibly the council shares their view?

But just a minute. That could be out of character for Manningham Council.

If you have read other articles on this web site, you will see several examples I give where Manningham Council holds community consultation or feedback sessions regarding their plans, developments, projects, etc.

What we see consistently is the council use these sessions to dismiss all objections over what they plan to do. When residents lodge objections formally to council plans, we read in the minutes, page after page of council responses that dismiss residents concerns. And sometimes we see worse. In particular with the Mullum Mullum Highball Stadium project, we saw the council take a very dim view of residents who opposed their plans and suggest their motives and actions were less than proper and decent.

What we see these community consultation sessions turn into, is an exercise in not listening and ensuring Manningham Council gets their way.


So let us consider carefully how Manningham Council responds to the survey.

First, what does the private company recommend?

"This report recommends that Council note the findings of the Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey 2016." (Minutes, page 2213)

And what does the council say they will do?

"That Council notes the findings of the Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey 2016." (page 2218)

So the council 'notes' the survey results. That is very good of them -- whatever 'note' means.


We seen again that there was no referral to any group or committee to study the results and recommend or make changes to council standards or procedures. No one is asked to take charge of the matter and make recommendations and/or then implement those recommendations. There is no plan put in place to improve the perceptions of ratepayers so they will improve their score next year.

No. It is simply left to individual managers to 'note' it and take whatever action they think need be done.


Don't hold your breath for a rate freeze.

In fact, I wouldn't hold my breath for any changes to come about in Manningham Council as a result of these surveys.

These surveys provide a cheap and quick way of satisfying the council's reporting obligations to the state government and Local Government Victoria and that is about it.

This show they put on each year of 'listening to ratepayers' appears to be just a pantomime.

From the way the council responds, what you or I have to say or request doesn't really matter.


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