THE results of the latest Community Satisfaction Survey, carried out from May to June this year, reveal profound dissatisfaction with South Gippsland Shire Council.
In the survey, the results of which have just been released, Council recorded an Overall Performance Index Score of 50. That is significantly lower than the state-wide average of 60 and lower too than the average index score of 56 in the Large Rural Shires group.
South Gippsland scored 65 for Customer Service (compared to a state-wide average of 71 and a Large Rural Shires group average of 68), 53 for Community Consultation and Engagement (state-wide average is 57 and Large Rural Shires group average 54), 51 for Advocacy (state-wide average is 55, Large Rural Shire group average 53) and only 43 for Overall Council Direction (state-wide average is 52, Large Rural Shires group average 48).
Roads were top of the list of community concerns, with sealed roads and street maintenance mentioned by 41 per cent of residents as an area where Council most needs to improve its performance. Ten per cent mentioned community consultation, and a range of other issues were also mentioned as requiring improvement, including rates, town planning, financial management and business development.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, residents had some difficulty naming the best thing about South Gippsland Shire Council. A high 31 per cent said there was nothing they could think of, whilst the most frequently mentioned issues were Council’s service response and accessibility (9 per cent) and councillors working well and being approachable (8 per cent).
Mayor Warren Raabe said he had seen only the bare statistics so far and was yet to see the detailed responses to the survey – and these he awaited with interest – but the stats were indeed disappointing.
He said, however, that the poor roads result was no surprise. He pointed out in Council’s defence that many of the roads that people have concerns with are not the responsibility of the shire. The heavily potholed South Gippsland Highway, for instance, is – contrary to what many people understand – the responsibility of VicRoads. Furthermore, the survey was carried out through May and June – before Council had sent crews out to roads which have now been seen to.
Cr Raabe said that the dissatisfaction with town planning was a surprise, however. The shire has, he said, lots of new planning staff with a vastly improved attitude to dealing with customers. Perhaps, he suggested, some people are disgruntled that the shire has taken a stronger line on enforcement with people who try to flout the planning regulations. “That may have led to dissatisfaction,” he admitted. He added: “I feel that a lot of people don’t engage with local government until something directly affects them – in a good or bad way.”
The survey was undertaken by an independent market research consultancy, JWS Research, commissioned by the Department of Planning and Community Development, and conducted via phone interviews, taking a random sample of 400 residents covering a cross section of genders and ages.
Men over 50, people aged 35-49 and those aged 50-64 were the harshest critics, these groups rating Council at 49 on average. With people aged over 50 representing 54 per cent of the local population, Council will be examining the reasons they give for their responses particularly closely.
In one of the survey’s few positive notes, women aged 18-49 rated South Gippsland Shire Council higher than average – but not significantly so – on all measures apart from Council Direction in the last 12 months.
Another positive was that 71 per cent of respondents indicated that Council’s performance had either remained the same as last year or improved.
South Gippsland differed from many other councils in that the poor performance ratings were consistently recorded across all key gender and age groups, with no groups recording significantly higher than average results.
This is the fifteenth year in which the Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey has been conducted. South Gippsland Shire Council has participated since its inception. However, this year new survey methodology and content were used following consultation with councils, and as a result comparisons cannot be made with earlier survey results.
Shire councillors will discuss the survey at their meeting today (to be held at the Leongatha RSL at 2pm). The research report is included as Appendix 1 in the Agenda and will also be published on Council’s dedicated Community Satisfaction Survey web page.
Council will analyse the results and the verbatim comments made by survey respondents when these are available, with a view to identifying improvement opportunities. The information will also be used to guide the formulation of the 2013-2017 Council Plan.