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Service Reviews: How can NSW Councils meet their new responsibilities?

December 8, 2022

Legislative Drivers

In September 2021 the NSW Office of Local Government published new guidelines for Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R), which included a new requirement to publish a program of Service Reviews:

4.3 To encourage continuous improvement across the council’s operations, the Delivery Program must identify areas of service that the council will review during its term, and how the council will engage with the community and other stakeholders to determine service level expectations and appropriate measures.

This focus on service reviews within the IP&R Guidelines follows through on the changes made to the NSW Local Government Act in 2016 which included a new statement that the role of the governing body is …. to keep under review the performance of the council, including service delivery (s223(1)(g)).

The responsibility for service reviews was also included into the responsibility of the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee (s428A(2)(g)) which must monitor the service reviews undertaken by the Council.  

How does this new requirement look in practice?

We wanted to see how our Councils are complying with this new requirement, so we took a sample of twenty of our clients’ Delivery Programs (2022-2026) to analyse the current state of play. Here’s a summary of our findings:

  • Doesn’t comply – four out of twenty of the Councils we selected had no mention of service reviews in their recently adopted Delivery Program.
  • Internal approach only – two of our sample talked about their internal approach to service review, without giving any commitment to further develop or publish their program or their results.
  • Intending to develop a program – this was the largest category with seven of the sample publishing an intention to develop a program next year.
  • Lists specific services which will be reviewed – four of the sample nominated individual services (say three or four) which will be reviewed over the term of the delivery program.
  • Commits to reviewing all services in the next Council term – one council published a four year schedule listing all of their services and nominating which year each will be reviewed.
  • Organisation-wide rationale to reviewing individual services – two of the sample published a rationale for the overarching program as well as a selective, realistic and targeted approach to individual service reviews

Spotlight on Cumberland

We selected Cumberland Council as a great example because it not only meets the guidelines, but also has the following features:

AdvantagesThe Cumberland Delivery Program 2022-2026 says:
Demonstrates a commitment to service reviewsService reviews are a vital process that Cumberland City Council uses to ensure that services and facilities meet community needs and wants as well as into the future.
Allocates resources to the programCouncil is investing significantly in its internal ability to provide an internal better practice service review program, and will complement this capacity with consultants where technical expertise is required
Published program offers accountability and transparencyCouncil’s four year service review plan is outlined below, and progress will be reported in each Annual Report

The published program seems targeted and realistic, and describes the purpose of each service review:

The extensive benefits of Service Reviews

While the purpose of the new requirement is to ensure continuous improvement, a rolling program of service reviews can also put Councils and Councillors in a better position to:

  • Respond to changing customer priorities and needs
  • Determine the right mix of services and align the services with the council’s vision
  • Define statutory and non-statutory services and consider the potential for divestment of services
  • Generate financial savings
  • Review and optimise service levels and build staff capacity and skills

Centium’s Support – Organisation or Service Level Focus

Centium can provide support to meet these new requirements no matter what your starting point. We can look across all services, to set organisational priorities for both the services selected for review and also the purpose and objectives of conducting the review.

We can also assist you to design and conduct a service review. We bring fresh eyes, depth of local government experience and technical capability to conduct a thorough analysis and offer realistic and targeted recommendations for improvement. We will work with your internal corporate and service management professionals in a way that recognises and enhances your inhouse skills and experience.

For further information, please contact Centium’s Director Local Government Improvement, Sarah Artist, for a no-obligation discussion at 0409-830-283 or at sarah.artist@centium.com.au.

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