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Promoting Better Practice Review of the Uralla Shire Council

Promoting Better Practice is a review process that is part of the local government reform program. The program aims to improve the viability and sustainability of councils. The process represents the second stage of the NSW Government’s program of reform for local government.

The Objectives of a Promoting Better Practice Review
Reviews can act as a ‘health check’ giving the council confidence about what is being done and helping to focus attention on key priorities. The process has a number of objectives:

  • to generate momentum for a culture of continuous improvement and greater compliance across local government
  • to provide an ‘early intervention’ option for councils experiencing operating problems
  • to promote good governance and ethical conduct principles
  • to identify and share innovation and good practice in local government
  • to enable the division to use review information to feed back into its work in identifying necessary legislative and policy work for the local government sector

Review program process
A review involves a review team closely evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of key aspects of council operations and giving feedback. This will involve assessing council’s overall strategic direction, checking compliance, examining appropriate practices and ensuring that council has frameworks in place to monitor its performance.

A review may focus on specific areas of council activities that have been identified as a result of an analysis of council’s information and data.

Councils are asked to complete a self-assessment of their strategic management and operating practices. An analysis of this will assist the review team to appropriately focus the review. The review team conducts a reality check as part of the on site review. It tests what the review team read, see or hear. The division endeavours to give the council about 4 weeks in which to respond to the self-assessment materials. The on site stage generally occurs a further 3 to 4 weeks after council’s response is received.

The council receives a report on the issues identified during the review. The report will include what is working well at council as well as challenges for improvement. The Division of Local Government monitors council’s actions in response to the report to ensure that the review recommendations are acted upon.

The Five Stages of a Review

This involves council completing a strategic self-assessment and practice checklists, which we call the program tools. The strategic self-assessment examines the adequacy of council’s strategic focus. It asks council to explore what it is trying to achieve; how it delivers its priorities; what it has or has not achieved; and what it has learned and plans to do next.

The council practice checklist is a series of 5 checklists that relate to council’s assessment of its ability to meet minimum practice standards. The checklist covers the areas of Governance; Regulatory Functions; Asset and Financial Management; Community and Consultation; and Workforce Relations. Reviewers also request a range of key council documents including plans, policies, procedures and reports across a range of council operational areas.

The review team analyses performance data and local circumstances. The types of information considered by the reviewers before going on site includes; the demographics of the council area, community and social issues, development constraints or pressures, the types of activities council is involved in, council’s organisational structure and staffing, management plans and processes, comparative information, council’s financial position, seriousness and number of complaints and the results of council’s self-assessment. Reviewers also consult other relevant stakeholders including the NSW Ombudsman, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the NSW Department of Planning and other relevant NSW Government Agencies and community stakeholders.

The information the reviewers collect and analyse before going on site will help decide where the reviewers spend their time while on site. The focus of the review may vary according to the nature of the council’s work and local circumstances. A good understanding of local circumstances may help to explain why a council manages its work in a particular way.

Fieldwork provides the opportunity to gather valuable evidence to support the division’s analysis of council’s performance. Discussing these aspects with staff gives the reviewers an opportunity to “test” what they are seeing or finding.

During the review the reviewers conduct a range of activities such as: meeting with senior officers, talking with individual staff and councillors, observing council or committee meetings, following or auditing council processes and reviewing policies and procedures.

As the review progresses, the review team develops and tests hypotheses or preliminary conclusions. Conclusions will be based on evidence – either what the reviewers have seen, discussed or drawn conclusions from data or documents. Conclusions will be based on more than someone simply telling the reviewer this is so – they should be supported by data, documents or other reports.

Conclusions will be based on an assessment of the scale of the problem (or better practice) – how prevalent is the problem? How great is the risk to the organisation? Giving examples assists to understand this. The Division’s conclusions must be balanced, for example, giving a sense of the risk and scale of the practice, good or bad. It may be across the organisation or just isolated to one department or section, but could be a high risk concern for the council.

Conclusions will be based on themes that cut across individual functions in the organisation – while there may be issues that are specific to individual areas of council and these may need to be commented upon, the review team will be looking for themes that are common to a number of areas of council.

The reviewers will conduct an exit interview with council’s General Manager and/or Mayor at the end of the on site visit. This should inform council of the emerging conclusions and areas likely to be the subject of comment in the report.

A draft report is prepared following the on site review and this is sent to council as a confidential draft for comment. Council’s comments are considered and the final report is prepared and issued to council, the Minister and the Chief Executive, Local Government. Council must table the report so that it becomes a public document.

Council will be requested to draw up an action plan in response to the recommendations in the final report. The division monitors the implementation of the action plan.

Uralla Shire Council’s Better Practice Review Process:

1. 30 May 2011, Council advised by the Division of Local government of a Promoting Better Practice Review and provided with Templates and Checklists for self assessment for completion.

2. 15 July 2011, Council forwarded DVD of documents and checklist together with competed Councillors’ Surveys.

3. 22 August 2011, Promoting Better Practice Team commenced one week site visit to Uralla for fieldwork.

4. 1 March 2012, Council received the Confidential Draft Review Report for review and comment by 24 April 2012.

5. 23 April 2012, Councillors reviewed the staff response and action plan to the Draft Review Report of the Promoting Better Practice Review of the Uralla Shire Council. The Councillors and staff response e-mailed to the Division of Local Government.

6. 12 June 2012, Council received, by e-mail, the Final Review Report on the Promoting Better Practice Program review of the Uralla Shire Council together with a covering letter, dated 7 June 2012, from the Chief Executive of the Division of Local Government.

7. 25 June, Council received the Final Report of the Promoting Better Practice Review at its ordinary June 2012 meeting and resolved:

247/12 MOVED/ CARRIED (Crs R Spreadborough / S Powley)
That Council:

  • note the Promoting Better Practice Program Review Report – Uralla Shire Council – June 2012, attached to the Division of Local Government’s letter of 7 June 2012, particularly the Review Team’s comments on Council’s responses in Part IV.
  • endorse the Action Plan prepared by Staff.
  • make the Promoting Better Practice Program Review Report – Uralla Shire Council – June 2012 available on Council’s website.
  • Require Staff to provide quarterly progress reports on the Action Plan, commencing September 2012, to ensure completion of the report to the Division of Local Government on its progress by June 2013.

8. The Final Report of the Promoting Better Practice Review can be reviewed or downloaded via the links below: (the underlined is only to identify the changed words)

9. The Final Report contained 43 recommendations and an Action Plan was prepared. The review of the Action Plan to December 2013 can be reviewed or downloaded via the links below.

Download documents

Promoting Better Practice Review of Uralla Shire Council Covering Letter - 7 June 2012 (pdf 874kb)

Promoting Better Practice Review of Uralla Shire Council Final Report - June 2012 (pdf 668kb)

Promoting Better Practice Review of Uralla Shire Council - Action Plan to December 2013 (pdf 270kb)