Welcome to Ratepayers Victoria Incorporated, advocating for Collaboration, Accountability & Transparency. Our 2022 vision is a future where Victorian ratepayers are highly connected, value adding and engaging to increase their councils’ and state agencies’ propensity to achieve higher council rates affordability and local liveability. Our blog highlights the latest news and issues affecting ratepayers. Visit our Facebook.
On the 4 March 2017, we hosted our first 2017 community education forum to better understand:
- The role of the Local Government Inspectorate in the Victorian Public sector’s Integrity System for Public, presented by David Wolf
- ESC Revised Rate Capping Guidance 2017-18, presented by Andrew Chow.
We recorded these presentations and will upload the videos on this website and Facebook, when they are available.
Local Government Investigations & Compliance Inspectorate (LGICI)
The LG Inspectorate has been in operation since 2009 and with the return of Chief Municipal Inspector David Wolf in July 2016, has been cementing its position as the lead integrity agency for local government in Victoria.
David’s presentation helped to clarity the responsibility and key function of the Local Government Inspectorate, which is to investigate concerns related to council operations including criminal or corruption offences involving councillors, senior council officers or any person subject to the conflict of interest provisions. It is not just about any violations of the LG Act by Councillors, as many of us incorrectly thought so.
If you have complaints about council operations and breaches of the Local Government Act 1989, which relates to the following and leads to potential criminal offenses:
- corruption incidents
- misuse of position
- conflict of interest
- disclosure of confidential information
- distribution of unauthorised electoral material
then go to the LGICI’s complaint reporting guidelines, available on its webpage.
The best way to submit a complaint is to complete an online form – click here to access it. The agency is keen to address ratepayers’ complaints and will advise incident reporters of follow-up evaluation decisions and actions.
Essential Service Commission (ESC)’s Revised Rate Capping Guidance 2017-18:
ESC Andrew Chow presented the Revised Rate Capping Guidance 2017-218 resources as he did to councils, to ratepayers.
There is a role for ratepayers to evaluate how well their councils comply with the Community Engagement Guidance, which requires councils to inform their communities not just tokenism information about their proposed higher rate caps, but also
- the reasons for which the higher cap is sought
- how the views of the ratepayers and community have been taken into account
- how the higher cap is an efficient use of council resources and represents value for money
- what consideration has been given to reprioritising proposed expenditures and pursuing alternative funding options and why those funding options are not adequate
- the application’s consistency with the council’s long-term strategy and financial management policies.
These business case information must be disclosed to communities. Communities have an oversight role to check the community engagement compliance requirements are adequately met. If they know councils are eluding this compliance obligation, they should inform the ESC before or at the time their councils submit in their rates variation. ESC has a short time-frame to evaluate all councils’ applications and there may be insufficient time to address community feedback received late.
Ratepayers are already aware that some councils, such as Monash Council, are manipulating community engagement and making multi-million and biased and closed meetings’ project decisions now that will impact future rate levels in 3 or more years later. While some councils may elude informing their constituents of the future and longer term rate burden impacts of their larger project decisions now, little do they know that ratepayers can read & evaluate their councils’ 4 years forecasts of statutory financial ratios to understand whether future rate burdens prevail with their current large project intentions.
The Rates Capping policy require councils to consider long term forecasts in budget planning. However there is a loophole in the LG Act - some councils can be elusive in disclosing budget scenarios and long term forecasts publicly, because LG Act does not explicitly require them to do so. Reporting such elusiveness to the ESC now, will be considered when ESC evaluates these councils’ rate variation applications in the future.
It can happen
In mid 2016, Ratepayers Victoria (RV) were approached by a local newspaper in Darebin to help attract the right type of community caring people to run in the then coming local council election in October 2016
RV, lead by committee member Frank Sullivan, facilitated a public meeting in Northcote, to see if RV could attract new candidates to stand at the forthcoming election and also to get a local ratepayer group formed .”
A local ratepayer, Anne Laver attended the public meeting and agreed to form a local group. Frank helped Anne to setup the group, including helping to interview several local candidates and assess their capacity to support RV values and principles; and endorsed six candidates as a result. Five of the six endorsed candidates got elected, of who four were women. Recent feedback says these new councilors are doing an excellent job.
The Darebin Ratepayers group recently held a meeting with their councilors (five attended) and local residents/ratepayers (10 attended) to discuss current and emerging issues. Frank attended this meeting, reporting that “it was just brilliant to hear reasons from councilors regarding issues and comments from the ratepayer. There were some great suggestions put forward by the ratepayers to improve the system.”
Frank message to all “You cannot beat communication. Yes ,it can happen!”
Base on the success case development achieved by Frank, RV will be be encouraging ratepayers without a local representation to start forming their local groups. Please contact Frank Sullivan, who is project manager of RV’s New Ratepayers Group Development project – direct email: firstname.lastname@example.org (or email@example.com) for assistance in setting up your local ratepayer group.
Today, we received a letter from Minister Hutchins, informing ratepayers the progress status of the reform planning milestones to date.
Last year, we organised a forum in the Knox club, to provide feedback to a discussion paper proposing reform directions and ideas. We understand that a first version (or draft) of the proposed new legislation will be released sometime this year, open to a last open review before completing a final version for Parliamentary review and approval voting. The letter we received today is in response to the summary list we submitted to the Reform team in early January 2017.
- Effective compliance to the Act: Without an effective policing system, non compliance , as is today, will continue business as usual where there are lacking effective penalties to no consequences for non compliance offences. As a component of a future policing system, we also recommend adopting citizen juries, to help oversee and report governance and compliance at local levels. The Minister can nominate and provide training & support for qualified ratepayers to be part of their council’s citizen jury team. Ratepayers Victoria can help implement and manage this new community driven component of governance and compliance management
- Rate Valuation Equity: As seen in the latest Parliament Rate Capping report, councils and opposition parties are not supporting rates capping and they continuously steer towards blaming the Fair Go Rates policy for escalating and above CPI individual rate rises. The real cause is CIV and the ineffective use of existing rating tools by councils. We recommend moving away from adopting CIV towards adopting a modified SIV as common state-wide rate revaluation method. SIV ensures investment developers can no longer benefit the most from a CIV approach and more importantly gives some protection for our older ratepayers from excessive rate rises caused by CIV.
- Standard chart of accounts (prescriptive): essential for increasing financial accountability and sustainability across all service and operational dimensions of municipal businesses. This chart of account also has to integrate a common service classification system and the LGPRF to streamline lifecycle and performance management of the many hundreds of individual municipal services claimed by councils.
- A uniform complaint management Registry system across all councils that allows all stakeholders, especially ratepayers to track and manage the resolution status and satisfaction measures of registered complaint processing from capture to resolution. The analytics reporting will give evidence and insights into the strengths and weaknesses of councils’ capacities and self improvement propensities to service their communities, including their performance in good governance conduct and decision making.
- Community Engagement: Adopt a state common standard in public participation, such as the IAP2, which can provide the standard framework dimensions for justifying council’s choice of community engagement levels and reporting their performance measures in community engagement.
- Confidentiality and Conflict of interest: Distinct state-wide definitions of meeting confidentiality and conflict of interest (CoI) declarations (including compliance & offence rules) need to be specific, to return integrity of council’s decision making information transparency and justification accountability.
- Decision making Transparency & “Best Value” accountability: Simply making up and availing information for decision making, through officers reports or on the go council meeting debates is not sufficient to achieve transparency. Mandate guidelines for better and decision making information to be more relevant and publically accessible, timely and accurate and complete. We recommend decision making publications to be proactive and provide clarity of procedural and information criteria that explain (a) how decisions are to be made, justified and risk assessed and (b) organisational project management procedures and measures to ensure and report traceable and progressing implementation accountability.
- Term limits on CEO and councillors (2 terms), to mitigate groupthink, incompetent and politically biased councillors and CEOs to service local communities. We also recommend performance appraisals, supported by clear performance measures, to be adopted and published , to motivate CEO, Mayors and Councillors to be more accountable to their communities and demonstrate their capacities to achieve goals, linked to their performance measures and Below are a list of reform priorities ratepayers would like to see included in the scope of LG reforms.Councillors’
- Competency Assurance: It is common knowledge that lacking councillors’ competencies in leadership, governance and interpersonal skills are some of the key factors that are fostering poor council cultures, biased and poor decision making, incompetency, mistrust and poor relationships with their communities. Regular and progressive training can be mandated, especially for long standing councillors, to build / correct councillors’ competencies in leadership, corporate governance and people relationship management.
Councils who wish to increase next financial year’s rates will need to ensure they inform their community of their business case for raising rates above the cap.
The Essential Service Commission (ESC) has issued guidelines to help councils engage effectively with their communities, to ensure they provide top quality information, to ensure their communities become well informed of their councils’ decisions to increase rates above the cap.
The guidelines are available online for the public to view and understand the evaluation criteria ESC would use to assess whether councils have genuinely engaged with their communities. Ratepayers can assist to evaluate if their councils have followed these guidlines properly. If their councils have not, ratepayer advocates can provide the factual evidence to justify the non compliance and share with Ratepayers Vic to quality assure and facilitate forwarding community concerns to the ESC. They should also discuss the concerns with their councils, to agree improvements, while also taking leadership in fostering good community rapport with councils, helping them improve their organizational learning.
ESC is also presenting the guidelines to ratepayer groups who are interested to understand their councils’ obligation in community engagement, when they apply for rates variation this year. We are collaborating with ESC to discuss with our ratepayer networks these community engagement guidelines for councils’ 2017-2018 budget planning on 4th March 2017, at the Knox Council Offices, 511 Burwood Hwy, Wantirna South VIC 315. We are also having an earlier session with Local Government Inspectorate that day. Connect with our https://www.facebook.com/ratepayersvictoria/ to keep up to date.
Regional/rural ratepayers groups can come together and contact Ratepayers Victoria (email RatepayersVictoria@outlook.com) to organise a similar workshop with ESC in regional Victoria.
In December 2016, team members were identified and approach to form a project team. They met in early Jan 2017, and preliminary requirement research followed.
The following is a summary of the research highlights (click here for the detailed report) so far:
- Good governance is meant to be a conduct and practice integrated performance management framework for governments and their agencies, including down to the lowest level of municipal councils and their peak bodies.
- It is part of a bigger corporate governance framework, already defined in DTPLI’s Council Governance webpage, comprising of the following sections, categorised and re-organised as follows, for deeper gap analysis.
- A gap analysis of the above corporate governance framework reveals the following:
Good Governance Framework
Operational Control Framework
|1) There are no state-wide community engagementguidelines for councils:||2) Operational control areas have not been structurally designed and aligned to the core operational functions of a council3) State directed service provisioning controls are missing, a major gap when municipal service provisioning is the core business of councils.|
4) Integration of these state corporate governance areas in councils’ frameworks is discretionally translated by each council. This has resulted in the growing prevalence of good governance and operational performance quality issues in and across councils, including varying and often lacking compliance policing intensities and offence handling.
These findings have lead the project team to focus on defining the governance KPI for supporting council decision making and community engagement. The next step is to interview several stakeholders from selected council, state agencies and peak bodies, and MPs who have contributed and/or supported to developing past and present LGPRF versions. Interviewees will be carefully selected to avoid politicized influencers and reputed good governance offenders, to choose people who are committed to improve the LG system and attain its highest governance integrity.
For full details of the findings, click here.
Ratepayers Victoria (RV) is starting the new year with a new five years strategy plan. This plan directs our focus to create a 2022 future where Victorian ratepayers are highly connected, value adding and engaging to increase their councils’ and state agencies’ propensity to achieve higher council rates affordability and local liveability.
To realise this future, there are 3 objectives to be achieved within the next 5 years (2017 – 2022) : RV will become a platform organisation that has the capacity to
- Connect ratepayers among themselves, and network with other local government (LG) stakeholders
- Aggregate information resources and capabilities to better address local and statewide challenges and opportunities in LG
- Mobilize ratepayers to engage in strategic partnerships and leveraging technology to improve problem solving and accessing governance tools.
We have commenced and planning projects to achieve these objectives – see here to view current project list.
This five years strategy plan also involve a platform strategy, of which its digital form is already in early development and available online. Click here to view the current version of PlatformRV.
Christmas and the end of the year are getting close. Before the new year comes, we would like to share with you a reflective update about our past achievements over the last 4 yours and the exciting future direction Ratepayers Victoria is moving towards.
Past to Present Accomplishments:
In 2012, Ratepayers Victoria started a campaign to transform into advocacy organization. Why we carried out this strategic transformation? It is to empower our networks of ratepayer groups to become advocates for their local community, to have greater propensity and sustainable capacity to influence change in councils to better engage and response to their communities and keep rates affordable.
Far too often we heard from our networks of ratepayer groups that their councils jeered at them for being small associations, disenfranchising their individual members, including being adverse towards them. Changing these groups’ business model to become an advocacy organisations, networked and connected via a common Ratepayers Victoria’ platform, not only negates such treatment, but also increase their capacity to quickly build a stronger collective voice and be more mobilized to take enduring actions, though sometimes can be long and painful, but with endurance, persistence and resilience will ultimately lead to improving situations and relationships.
Becoming an advocacy organisation and as part of Ratepayers Victoria’s networks also allow groups to come together as a civil society collective, linked by common interests and shared knowledge and actions to improve good governance practices in councils, the root cause of many local issues, including rates affordability. A civil society is formally recognised as the third tier of society, along with government and businesses.
Our strategic advocacy development journey over the last four years has achieved the following:
- Formal involvement in making LG reforms. Ratepayers Victoria represented Victorian ratepayers in the development of the Fair Go Rates policy, which benefits all ratepayers but not effectively supported by many councils and their peak bodies, because it curtails their expenses and requires showing justification transparency and financial accountability in rates setting. Today, we continue to monitor through our networks and report rates capping resistance tactics, to ensure rates capping compliance is sustained and increase effectiveness in future years. Ratepayers Victoria also sits in the steering committee for enhancing the Local Government Performance Reporting Framework (LGPRF), which is a performance management tool for increasing and ensuring councils’ financial, service and governance performance. We are taking a hands on contribution to develop governance key performance indicators (KPIs), which currently is lacking and is no more than a tokenistic checklist.
- Developing ratepayers’ capacity to exercise local governance overseeing, which involves taking a agile approach in trialling processes and tools to check and report compliance violations and offences, aiming to inform higher authorities better understand and response to local grass root governance issues and practice gaps in councils. The milestones we accomplished is having regular meeting access to higher authorities and greater and formalizing recognition as a value adding contributor to reforms development.
- Finding new ways to sustain ratepayers groups, create new ones with guided help, and regionalise ratepayer groups for strategic positioning. Eastern Ratepayers was formed, consolidating groups from Knox, Monash, Casey and Cardinia, who meet regularly and engage in collaborative local and regional problem solving, etc. We helped create two new ratepayer groups in Darebin and Mildura.
- Building and leveraging strategic partnerships with other groups and businesses, to create and innovate value adds that mutually benefit each other. The first prototype was partnering with Oursay to trial a governance evaluation survey, to better understand and confirm the common governance issues experienced by ratepayers.
- Prototyping processes and tools to increase ratepayer groups’ role in supporting the right candidates in council election. In the 2016 election period, we trialled the process of giving Ratepayers Victoria branded endorsement to local groups’ recommended candidates and prototyped an online information tool for helping voters make informed decisions in selecting running candidates.
We achieved these strategic milestones while continuing day to day support to our networks. These strategic and operational achievements are the effort of a small team of volunteering but high performing advocate leaders, able to create and expand their spheres of influences through sharing their knowledge, talents and networks.
The Next Strategic Positioning:
Over the festive break, we are developing a strategy plan for the next 5 years, ensuring Ratepayers Victoria is strategically positioned to strengthen and sustain ratepayers voice and influence, and increase achievements of high impact strategic outcomes that deliver both local and state-wide benefits. The scope of strategic positioning is to modernise ratepayers’ participation in council affairs and have sustainable relationships with higher authorities to increase and sustain council integrity, transparency and responsiveness to local communities and the state. Ratepayers will expand its advocacy business model to become platform oriented one, so that ratepayers can easily connect, access and share knowledge, talents and resources to increase their sphere of influence and making value adding contributions in councils. In the new year, we will share more insights about this strategy plan.
Folks, do have a wonderful and joyful Christmas, and a very happy and safe new year.
Effective from 31 October 2016, Ratepayers Victoria’s new President is Dr Chan Cheah. RV Founder and long time President, Jack Davies, decided to be Vice-President. Chan and Jack will continue to work closely together, continuing to contribute their different areas of expertise, to bring Ratepayers Victoria to the next level.
The new nominated committee members are:
- Beaty Davis
- Frank Sullivan
- Joe Lenzo
- John Presley
- Kim Nguyen
- Lynnette Saloumi *
- Marlene Bottrell
- Phil Douglass.
Over the last 6 months, we accomplished some strategic quick wins:
- The start-up of 2 ratepayers groups in Mildura and Darebin (Melbourne Metro)
- The development of Eastern Ratepayers Inc, to better connect ratepayer groups in the eastern region, to share knowledge and resources and engage in ground breaking collaboration projects, to improve the LG system
- Ratepayers Vic representation in the Local Government Performance Reporting Framework (LGPRF) steering committee, who is responsible for enhancing key performance indicators of councils.
- Increasing the formal acknowledgement of Ratepayers Vic as a key stakeholder among upper authorities, including the Local Government Ministry office, in reforms development.
- Started up Ratepayers Vic’s facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ratepayersvictoria/ to facilitate stronger ratepayers communication and knowledge sharing.
- Collaborating with Knox and Monash ratepayers groups, we successfully prototyped two services that RV can provide to its members in the next election cycle – the collaboration process between RV and local ratepayer groups to endorse locally suitable candidates, and the provision of a candidates survey to help voters make an informed decision about their local candidates.
These value adding accomplishments are in addition to our other operational advocacy activities, such as laboriously writing submission papers to respond to LG programs, etc.
In the next two months, working with several committee members, we will set the new objectives and 4 years strategic directions for Ratepayers Vic, to be a stronger advocacy and more influential platform enabler for all ratepayers in Victoria.
Platform RV is our new strategic initiative. Watch this space develop and we will publish this exciting and ground breaking RV strategy plan in due course.
* Lynnette Saloumi resigned in December, 2016, to avoid conflict of interest risks in her new Councillor duties.
Essential Service Commission (ESC) is the state government agency for overseeing compliance to the Fair Go Rates System (FGRS) aka rates capping policy. It called for an independent review of its implementation of the FGRS, which was conducted by Peter Brown. The review was completed in October 2016, with the publication of a review report.
ESC has responded to this review report, see http://www.esc.vic.gov.au/document/local-government/36176-escs-response-peter-brown-report/. The conclusion is:
“The community consultation required for applications should not be a standalone process to satisfy a higher rate cap application but rather part of councils’ ongoing planning and consultation processes outlined in the current Local Government Act and further expanded within the proposed new Act”.
(Click here for the full report):
Ratepayers Victoria has reviewed both reports and agreed with most of ESC responses. We also highlighted additional recommendations to:
- Include a representatives of the community in any pre-application submissions, especially to verify with evidence that community engagement was satisfactory
- The provision of a model chart of account should be a first and high priority for improvement.
- Councillors and officers should have to attend compulsory training on the subject of participative democracy and their community engagement performance be monitored by LGV
- There is a need to define and measure value for money, to improve compliance to the best value principles in the LG Act
- Participatory budgeting should be a future mandatory, to enable collaboration with the community in planning council budgets.
RV disagrees with several responses, notably we see no value but more risks if:
- Councils are advised of ESC’s decisions regarding the rates application before public release of the final decisions
- Councils are provided a copy of the final decision and an opportunity for a debrief and comment prior to public release
- ESC presumes that if a mayor signs off that the criterion concerning community consultation on the higher rate cap has been undertaken in accordance to the framework
- Councils are given at least 2 opportunities within the calendar year for Councils to apply for a higher cap.
Public responses to the LG Review Discussion paper closed last week.
We issues our submission paper. The key highlights of our submission are:
- We conclude that the State Government’s proposed reform drivers for change are underpinned by the need for improving good governance capacity building in councils, based on the principles of the Good Governance Guide. The discussion paper identified the areas of significant improvements aka reforms are needed:
- Community engagement
- Integrated strategy planning and reporting
- Decision making
- Exercising Ministerial powers
- Human resource & performance management
- Ensuring fair & affordable property taxation