Yarriambiack governance and culture significantly improves, review finds

Monday, 13 February 2023 at 2:59 am

The Local Government Inspectorate has found that Yarriambiack Shire Council’s governance and culture has significantly improved since its publication of a critical report in 2019. A visit by the Inspectorate in 2022 identified that council had addressed each of the recommendations made in the report.

The 2019 investigation focused on allegations that community assets and resources had either been not properly managed or were used to the benefit of individuals, not the community as a whole. In its report, the Inspectorate identified significant issues including a lack of accountability, a lack of responsible uses of resources and general poor governance.

A number of the issues experienced by the council were in relation to the management of council assets and resources at the Hopetoun depot.  Poor governance practices were identified, as a result of a lack of leadership at the depot, limited staff education, and minimal oversight by council administration.

The Inspectorate had previously conducted a governance review in 2011 that highlighted numerous governance failings at the council. Unfortunately, it was apparent that significant improvement had not taken place between 2011 and 2019.

In 2022, the Inspectorate visited the council to review documentation and interview staff as part of the latest governance examination. It was immediately clear that there had been positive change at the council leading to improved governance.  It was also noticeable that staff were far more invested in the organisation.

In the period between the 2019 investigation and our 2022 examination, council provided the Inspectorate with updates about actions that had been taken or were to be taken, and our visit confirmed that each of these had either been started or completed.

Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said “Congratulations is to be given to previous Chief executive officer (CEO) Jessie Holmes, and current CEO Tammy Smith for delivering on a commitment to address the significant number of recommendations included in the 2019 report.

“The council executive is to be commended for directing resources into important governance areas that have delivered positive outcomes.

“In discussions with staff, we were met with a distinctly different attitude and culture from that witnessed previously. There was an enthusiasm from staff as they variously described the improvement in leadership values and the gains made through the implementation of various governance systems and processes.

“This was backed up by staff surveys, where there was an 80 per cent satisfaction level, which was a marked improvement from previous surveys.”

To facilitate these improvements, the council introduced an automated compliance management tool which improved efficiency and accountability. New human resources and Finance systems have also allowed staff to better manage their responsibilities.

 All staff are now required to undertake training that is specific to their roles, as well as being familiar with the requirements of the staff code of conduct. Training was previously only undertaken in an ad-hoc manner.  

Mr Stefanovic said: “As part of the culture change, we also found that where poor behaviour was identified within the council, this was called out without the fear of repercussion. The culture within the council now provides a clear pathway to deal with these issues, which wasn’t evident previously.

“The Inspectorate is confident that the issues experienced at the depot, which led to the investigation, and delivered financial and reputational risk to the council, have fundamentally been mitigated through a raft of improvement strategies, that include improved policies, ongoing training, and improved record keeping and asset management practices.

“I would like to acknowledge and recognise staff for their willingness to accept and adapt to the changes that have been implemented and for the councillor group in ensuring that management and staff were able to undertake the actions to enable the positive changes to the organisation.

“The Inspectorate is very pleased to have played a positive role in identifying governance shortfalls at Yarriambiack Shire Council, and thanks the council for working closely with us to implement the necessary improvement strategies.”   

Protecting integrity: Yarriambiack Shire Council Investigation was published in November 2019.