Governance and culture improvements at West Wimmera Shire Council

Wednesday, 22 March 2023 at 11:07 pm

Failings in governance and culture, identified at West Wimmera Shire Council 5 years ago, have largely been addressed at the council, a review has found.

A 2018 examination of the council by the Local Government Inspectorate focused on specific allegations regarding conduct issues between councillors and staff, conflict of interest management, interest returns management, asset management, financial management including procurement, grants, councillor expenses and reimbursements as well as credit card management. General Governance and Human Resources were also reviewed.  

The examination identified significant deficiencies in key governance practices, and council did not have a structured training program to ensure staff had the capacity and opportunity to best undertake their roles.  

Governance issues were longstanding, as many had originally been identified in a report to council by the Inspectorate in 2011.

In returning to the council in June 2022, it was pleasing to identify that general governance improvements had been implemented, however it was clear that despite the publishing of the report in November 2018, and allowing for ongoing impacts of Covid, a majority of the improvement strategies had not commenced until 2021.    

Council demonstrated that it has directed resources into its most valuable assets, its staff and its systems. Staff training had an increased focus, and the introduction of Reliansys, a compliance management tool, will significantly improve efficiency and accountability across the organisation. Records Management capability, previously a major area of concern, has also improved through the implementation of a cloud-based system. 

The key area of councillor and staff interaction practices have improved, through updates to the councillor and staff codes of conduct as required by legislation, along with the implementation of a stand-alone Councillor and Staff Interaction policy that adequately reinforces the need for councillors not to overstep set boundaries.

Conflict of Interest practices have been enhanced through the engagement of industry specialists; land sales and leasing practises have improved; and while procurement improvement practices continue to be a work in progress, the transition from manual paper-based processes to a fully automated system through eProcure will further enhance capability and accountability.

In discussions with staff, we noted positive cultural change, with staff expressing they were more empowered than was the case under previous regimes.

Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said “it was pleasing to note that staff felt the culture was more inclusive, and that they were given a voice in areas such as highlighting potential process improvements or discussing personal matters that had previously been uncomfortable”.

“The council executive team, led by CEO David Bezuidenhout, are to be commended for driving change, through their investment in areas that my office had previously identified as having been neglected.”

“We are pleased to have played a positive role in identifying governance shortfalls at West Wimmera Shire Council, and thank the council for working to implement the necessary improvement strategies,” Mr Stefanovic said.

Protecting integrity: West Wimmera Shire Council Examination was published in November 2018.