President’s column

ALL OF US crave positive or constructive feedback in our professional and working lives. To actively go looking for it, however, is to run the risk of being told something that’s more damning than helpful. So, it was a pleasant surprise to unpack an audit this week showing just how positively NSW people regard Local Government.

Local Government NSW recently engaged Micromex to survey community perceptions of Local Government. They found that 75 percent of the state’s residents believe the sphere of government best equipped to make decisions about their communities was Local Government.

Only 27 percent felt decisions affecting their communities were best made by the state government, and only five percent believed they were best made by the Commonwealth.

Eighty-two percent of respondents were somewhat satisfied with their local councils, with only six percent expressing dissatisfaction – and we all know who they are!

Most encouraging of all, the Micromex Research and Consulting survey confirmed a trend that’s been evident in similar surveys going back to 2012, which is that the overall public image of councils is steadily improving. 

Respondents cited council competency, trust, acting in the best interest of local communities, financial management and value for money as reasons for rating Local Government so highly.

The survey is worth examining for other reasons, particularly for what it has to say about the issues respondents said were most important to them – and how these varied according to whether they were in metropolitan or regional Local  Government Areas.

Respondents in larger LGAs nominated roads as the most important issue facing councils in the next 10 years. Residents of small and medium LGAs, however, rated local economies and business support above roads.

With the commendations came some faint praise, however, particularly around the issue of councils’ engagement with the public. Just 52 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the information they received from Local Government, and 46 percent indicated they’d like more.

Stuart Reeves, Micromex’s managing director, talked about the survey at the LGNSW annual conference this week, and made the point that there’s a direct correlation between communication provision and public engagement and satisfaction with Local Government.

Clearly, many councils understand this, and endeavour to keep residents and ratepayers apprised of pertinent issues in good time. The LGNSW survey suggests, however, there’s room for improvement.

Running an effective communications/engagement strategy in a fragmented media landscape is no easy matter, particularly given the decline in coverage of Local Government affairs by newspapers.

But our responsiveness to the community, our willingness to consult with them and engage them in decision-making is crucial if Local Government is to be effective, well supported and successful going forward.

And with the LGNSW survey indicating communities are not opposed to paying more in rates and charges if they get better quality services and facilities, there’s a clear financial dividend to our sector in not only performing better but communicating better.

The strong message from the survey analysis is that by inviting our communities to participate in shaping their future, early and often, the dividends in support, community activation, and growth will far exceed our expectations.

All the best.

David O'Loughlin,