The Mirror News

Survey finds community dissatisfaction with shire council

THE results from the 2013 Community Satisfaction Survey indicate that there is much room for improvement in the community’s satisfaction with South Gippsland Shire Council’s performance.

The results are not dissimilar to those obtained in 2012 and are generally below the stage-wide average and the average in similar (Large Rural) shires.

2013 is the sixteenth year in which the Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey has been conducted, and South Gippsland has participated since its inception. However, in 2012 new survey methodology and content was used, and so results comparisons can only be made with the 2012 results.

One change is that the survey is now conducted as a representative random sample survey of residents aged 18 years or over, whereas previously it was conducted as a ‘head of household’ survey. It is a telephone survey and 400 people are interviewed.

SGSC scored just 48 in overall performance, compared to 50 in 2012, 57 as the average in Large Rural Shires and 60 as the state-wide average. The ratings were highest amongst residents aged over 65 and lowest amongst residents aged 50-64 or 35-49.

In community consultation and engagement SGSC rated 54, one up from 2012, but less than the average for Large Rural Shires (55) or state-wide (57). Residents aged 18-34, women aged 18-49 and Strzelecki Ward residents awarded the highest scores in this section, while Tarwin Valley residents were the most dissatisfied.

In advocacy (lobbying on behalf of the community) SGSC scored 51, as it did in 2012, with the average for Large Rural Shires 53 and the state-wide average 55. The figures were highest amongst residents aged 18-34 and men aged over 50, and lowest amongst women aged over 50 and Tarwin Valley Ward residents.

Satisfaction with customer service improved from 65 in 2012 to 68 in 2013, only just under the average for Large Rural Shires of 69 and the state-wide average of 71. Strzelecki Ward residents (73) and women aged 18-49 (71) gave the highest ratings on average, while Coastal Promontory Ward residents (62) gave the lowest.

The overall council direction was rated very poorly in SGSC, the figure of 42 being even worse than the 2012 rating of 43, and considerably worse than the average for Large Rural Shires of 51 or the state-wide average of 53.

When asked whether council’s performance had improved over the last 12 months, 70 per cent of respondents indicated that council’s performance had either remained the same as last year (60 per cent) or improved (10 per cent). However, 26 per cent indicated there had been deterioration.

When asked to describe the best thing about the council, 28 per cent of respondents said ‘nothing’ (only marginally different from the 2012 percentage of 31).

Following the 2012 survey, an Action Plan was drawn up to address the key improvement opportunities. This has been updated based on the 2013 results.  Since it is clear from the comments received that some respondents are unaware of the range of council services and the initiatives to improve them, a strong element of the Action Plan is to expand communications to improve community awareness.

Discussing the results at the August council meeting, councillors expressed some disappointment, but vowed to continue to try to improve their performance.

Cr Lorraine Brunt questioned how seriously the results could be taken when respondents made comments such as “They only care about two towns, Leongatha and Inverloch” when Inverloch is not even in South Gippsland Shire!

Cr Mohya Davies pointed out that there a lot of positive comments, such as “the council is prepared to meet people within their community. I believe that they probably have good relationships and understanding with people”, “very approachable, take time to listen, I spoke to them about home help and I got it”, “my experience with dealing with them has been pleasant” and “when getting in touch with them they are helpful and courteous”.

However, she acknowledged that the shire did “cop a fair bit of criticism” and she concluded: “It’s important we listen to our community.”

Cr James Fawcett said the survey was a valuable tool and he appreciated the feedback it provided councillors with. “Despite its imperfections it does compare us to our peer group. I’m quite prepared to be judged and measured. It’s a tool we’ve got to improve our performance.”

Cr Andrew McEwen remarked that the actions in the Council Plan should go some way to addressing the community’s concerns.

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