Councils across the state had to submit their Fit for the Future submissions this week. With our submission alone consisting of 111 pages, and with 152 Councils across the State preparing documents of a similar size, the State Government would have received close to 17,000 pages from Local Government this week. This is all at an incredible cost to Local Government.

There is no doubt that the Fit for the Future reform process is the most significant change since 1993 when our former State Member, Gerry Peacocke, was the Minister for Local Government.

The overall process has been designed to help councils demonstrate to our communities that we are financially sound, operating efficiently and in a strong position to guide growth and deliver services into the future. The seven benchmarks, as set out by the IPART methodology, were: Operating Performance Ratio; Own Source Revenue; Building and Infrastructure Asset Renewal; Infrastructure Backlog Ratio; Asset Maintenance Ratio; Debt Service Ratio and Real Operating Expenditure per Capita. These are all logical and sensible benchmarks that can be adjudged against black and white parameters and an answer can pop out at the other end.

Whilst I don’t vehemently disagree with the overall process and benchmarks, I do question one other factor which is a difficult one to measure – but is worth much more than the seven benchmarks previously outlined.

I remember very early in my burgeoning business career, I had a meeting with my bank manager. He informed me that, after they had crunched the numbers on my business and analysed the data, they were going to increase my overdraft rate because my numbers didn’t measure up well against the benchmarks that had probably been designed by a University professor who had never spent a day in a real business. I asked a simple question. I asked the bank manager (looking back now it was probably an arrogant question to show me where in the numbers it accounted for determination; attitude; ideas; skill; entrepreneurship and an absolute driven will to succeed. He looked at me blankly. He asked how a bank could possibly measure all of that. I told the bank manager that if he couldn’t see those attributes in myself and my business, then perhaps this wasn’t the right bank for me. For the first and last time in my business career, I changed banks. Several months later when we won a major business award, the first bank contacted me to try and bring me back as a customer on a lower overdraft rate than we initially had. Of course I didn’t go.

I would say something similar to the State Government. I can’t see a measure in the benchmarks for a committed group of Councillors who are one hundred per cent dedicated to the best outcome for a Local Government Area. I can’t see how they measure the skill and excellence of a management team. I can’t see that they are measuring the engagement of the local community and the community’s absolute desire to see Council – and the City – succeed. I don’t remember any mentions of the commitment of the staff of a Council. I can’t see anywhere in all of these ratios and criteria that it measures whether or not a Council will actually be successful.

I realise that it is hard for a committee to measure all of these intangibles based on a paper submission. With submissions, it is often the skill of the submission writer – rather than the actual content – that is the difference between a good and a great submission.

My suggestion would be a time-consuming one. Perhaps IPART – or whoever the State Government abrogates their responsibility to – has a representative spend some time in a community. Talk to Councillors; talk with management teams; find out what people in a community think about the way forward for a Local Government Area. Find out what is really happening ‘on the ground’ in a community.

In the 111 page submission from Dubbo City Council, we demonstrate clearly how we hit all of the seven defined benchmarks three years ahead of schedule and so can be called ‘Fit for the Future.’ In terms of commitment, skill and a desire to succeed from Councillors, staff and the community in Dubbo, if there were defined benchmarks measuring those attributes, we would be smashing those numbers out of the ground right now. And in my mind, forget about the seven IPART benchmarks – the intangible attributes are much more important to the success of Dubbo City Council and our city.

Tell me how you think a State Government should measure the prediction of future success at

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