156 – Decision making: The calendar effect and local government planning.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                              700 words


This is the fourth post in a series. Most councils prepare their plans in a very conventional way. All of the councils where I have worked have been the same. The planning process is frequently criticised but seldom challenged. There is a better way.

Despite the effort put into strategic planning by many organisations, it can actually be a barrier to decision making. Michael Mankins and Richard Steele believe that difficulties in strategic planning are attributable to two factors:

  1. The calendar effect – it is usually an annual process.
  2. The business unit effect – it is usually focussed on individual business units.

This is completely at odds with the way executives actually make important strategic decisions. They make the decisions that really shape organisational strategy and determine the future direction of the organisation outside the formal planning process. And they often do it in an ad hoc way without rigorous analysis and debate. Continue reading

155 – Decision making: Policy and decision making in local government.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                              750 words


This is the third post in a series. Policy should guide local government managers and their teams in making most decisions with the confidence that if the decision is challenged it can be assessed against the policy and shown to be justified.

Some decisions won’t be able to be made this easily and a ‘one up’ escalation or other simple decision review processes should enable a decision to be made quickly and efficiently. There will be some decisions that are outside existing strategy or policy that will need to be referred to more senior management for new thinking about the decision that is required.

In a high performing organisation, making decisions that are consistent with organisational strategy, policy and plans should be straightforward for the majority of decisions. Continue reading

154 – “If it is easy or there is a budget, councils are probably doing it”.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                                          400 words

easy peasy lemon squeezy

The flip side of this statement is that if it is difficult or there is no budget, councils probably aren’t doing it. This is one of my most common bits of advice to residents. The reality is that councils can really struggle to do difficult things. It isn’t that they don’t want to. It is just that the system militates against it. It is worth thinking about the hallmarks of something that is difficult for local government.

It is often something that is new – something that the council hasn’t done before that has to be learnt. This takes time and effort, and can be risky. Someone could be upset by it. You might make a public mistake. I once worked for a council that wanted to be recognised as a leader, but only by doing things that other councils had already proven would work. Continue reading

152 – Rate capping – an inconvenient fact.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          220 words

ESC table 2.3 forecast rate cap

Image source

Lancing Farrell has made some good points in her post about rate capping. I think the ESC has been optimistic. The impact of application of the CPI and WPI and the Efficiency Factor is likely to be more significant for many councils, particularly large urban councils.

The main reason I say this is that the average of 40 % of expenditure on labour costs doesn’t reflect the reality of many councils. For many it is 55 to 60%. This means that a significant part of their labour costs will be adjusted for CPI, not the higher WPI. I have reproduced the table from Lancing Farrell’s post above.

I have produced my own table comparing a council that has 60% labour costs. Continue reading

151 – If local government was a car, what sort of car would it be? Part 5– the Tesla Model S.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          700words


This is the final post in a series of five. The first review was for the Hyundai Excel Sprint council, the second was the Leyland P76 council, the third was the Volvo 240 series council, and the fourth was the Alfa Romeo 1750 GT council.

The last choice is the Tesla Model S. Futuristic, sustainable and unattainable.   This is really the only electric car that anyone talks about as if they would like to own one. With accelerations times equal to a Holden muscle car, or any other sporty fuel guzzler, they are attractive to the environmentalist car enthusiast. Put on your hessian pants, get in and floor it! Continue reading

150 – ‘Muzzle on council rates’. The Age, 31 July 2015.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         800 words


The pressure is on. The Essential Services Commission has released its draft report on the proposed rate capping for councils in Victoria. It has a number of interesting elements and some significant implications for local government. The report sets out which revenues are proposed to be capped, how the rate cap could be calculated, the current forecast for rate increases to 2018/19 under the proposed system (see below), and the impact of the application of an ‘efficiency factor’ to provide an incentive to pursue efficiencies.

The article in The Age describes the major impacts.

“Victoria’s 79 councils had an average rate increase of 3.8 per cent this year. Several councils increased their rates by more than 6 per cent.

The draft report includes indicative forecasts for an annual rate cap of 3.05 per cent in 2016-17, dropping to 2.85 per cent in 2017-18 and 2.8 per cent in 2018-19.

In addition to the cap, the review calls for a new “efficiency” deduction to be introduced from 2017-18 where councils would need to reduce their rates bill by 0.05 per cent because of efficiencies (increasing by 0.05 percentage points each year). Jason Dowling, The Age, 31 July 2015.

So, what are the likely implications for councils?

There have been some previous posts on this topic (see  Council rates capped from mid-2016’, The Age, 21 January 2015 and Labor’s rate cap to hurt services and infrastructure, ratings agency warns’, The Age, 27 February 2015.). That thinking still stands. Councils will have to say ‘no’ louder and more often. Difficult choices will need to be made about what services to offer or not offer, and what the levels of service will be. Some people will no longer be eligible for services as councils start to distinguish more strongly between those who are or are not customers. Expect much more customer segmentation for services delivery. All of this will be difficult for our politicians who succeed by pleasing their constituents.

In many ways this is the easy bit Continue reading

147 – ‘The Voice’ for local government. An alternative recruitment approach?

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          600 words

the voice


Did any of the judges in The Voice Italy expect to see a Nun when they turned around?   Watch the linked video. My guess is, no. Would a Nun have won through normal auditions? Maybe in Italy (she won by The Voice by the way). I am not saying that she wasn’t a good singer. The question is, would she (and other winning contestants) have found their way through the first round of auditions if they could be seen by the judges as they performed?

Blind auditioning removes some of the obvious prejudices that hamper institutionalised selection processes, like television pop music. You might ask why it is potentially useful to local government. Continue reading

146 – If local government was a car, what sort of car would it be? Part 4 – the Alfa Romeo 1750 GT.

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          600 words

alfa romeo

This is the fourth post in a series of five. The first review was for the Hyundai Excel Sprint council, the second was the Leyland P76, the third was the Volvo 240 series.

The fourth possibility is the Alfa Romeo 1750 GT. Stylish and fancy (and often seen with the bonnet up).   Plenty of glamour here for the ‘Alfisti’. The choice of Romeos worldwide, it was a real eye catcher that brought lots of attention. They came in bright and classical Italian automotive colours and have a great exhaust note. You wouldn’t own one to cart around your family or as your main transport to work (you needed a Hyundai or Volvo for that) but there were many weekend warriors with a 1750 in the garage. Continue reading

145 – The deep web and local government recruitment.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         1100 words

deep web

Local government executive recruitment is a game. Often recruitment is not genuinely based on competence and ability. In many cases, relationships are far more important. I have heard it described as the ‘deep web’ – what you see isn’t all there is. So, how does it work?

Councils recruiting a new CEO tend to go for ‘tried and true’ or ‘shiny and new’.  I think analysis will show an alternating pattern from one to another. It is almost as though councilors become bored with their CEO, or, more likely, the CEO refuses to do what they tell them to do. Once a CEO stands up and says ‘no’, they are likely to be on the way out.

Councilors know that they can demand that a CEO does what they want – whether or not it is in their or the community’s best interests. I think that once a council has dismissed a CEO and they have a ‘taste of blood’ they are more likely to do it again and a cycle of CEO non-reappointments and appointments begins (with all the disruption this brings).

When councils are recruiting a CEO, they rely on assistance from the recruiters – companies that specialise in helping councils to recruit executives. These companies can be highly influential. Continue reading

144 -The local government coracle.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          200 words

coracle paddling

I read Colin Weatherby’s post on what he would do as the CEO in response to Lancing Farrell’s question with some delight. I too have often made the connection between local government and boats, but in a different way.

Celtic monks gained a certain amount of fame for setting off in coracles to see where God, by way of currents, led them. Some of them set off without even an oar. Monks are famous for this kind of faith and their willingness to take risks.

Despite the propensity of coracle sailors to take risks, it somehow seems an apt craft for local government. The idea that many councils are like little round boats that go where wind and tide takes them is fitting. Having no front or back, it doesn’t matter which direction they go in. Having no method of propulsion leaves them at the mercy of external forces. Even a skilled navigator would struggle to take one in the direction they wanted to go.

I am not suggesting that every council is a coracle or that CEO’s and senior management must sit idle while the organisation goes in whatever direction greater forces take it. But sometimes it feels like it.