Councils were largely compliant with legislation which required documents to be created or updated, the Inspectorate found.
During 2022, we reviewed more than 1,000 individual policies and documents in a project to measure how well councils had complied with requirements placed on them by the Local Government Act 2020.
The report on the review Checking compliance: A review of council policies, was released in January.
The 2020 Act was the most significant reform of Victoria’s local government law in decades and required councils to create or update policies to comply with the new legislation over an 18-month period.
We found the average compliance rate for the adoption of each of the policies and documents by the 79 councils was 93%.
Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said: “We were pleased to see that councils had acted quickly in creating and adopting the new and updated policies required by the new Act – despite the challenging circumstances at the time.”
We asked councils to provide documents, including:
- Councillor Code of Conduct
- Council Expense Policy
- Councillor Gift Policy
- Audit and Risk Committee Charter
- Complaints Policy
- Procurement Policy
- CEO Employment and Remuneration Policy.
The level of compliance across the sector was extremely high, with nine of the 11 topics recording compliance rates of over 90%. Another topic had a compliance rate of 87%.
We also selected a random sample of policies from a range of councils for a closer look.
“This deep-dive revealed some minor issues but overall, the quality of policies was pleasing,” Mr Stefanovic said.
We made eight recommendations to help councils improve their documentation and to alert them to a small number of common errors. We also made a recommendation to Local Government Victoria to provide clarification on an area of the Act.
More policies to cover councillor relationships needed
We receive a lot of complaints about councillor-staff interactions, such as councillors inappropriately involving themselves in operational matters.
Councillors are entitled to request information from the chief executive officer and other officers that is legitimately required to make an informed decision. For example, if a matter is very complex a councillor may seek further documents or a briefing.
However, such requests must be made through the appropriate channel – such as the CEO – rather than approaching staff directly.
Our review found that half of Victoria’s councils did not have a specific policy to guide the relationships between councillors and council staff.
While there is no legislative requirement for councils to have such a policy, it is an area which has raised concerns between councillors and across local communities.
Councils are strongly encouraged to develop a policy to guide the relationships and interactions between councillors and council staff.
Sample policies available online
One of the recommendations of the report is for councils to compare their policies to a new resource published by the Inspectorate.
This project allowed us curate and publish a suite of policies to our website. We strongly suggest that councils take the opportunity to benchmark their own council policies against those on our website.
The sample policies we have selected meet legislative requirements and are from a broad cross section of councils.
The sample policies are part of a broader collection of information for councils under our ’resources for councils’ section on our website. Councils will also find fact sheets, case studies on investigations, case studies on compliance examinations and summaries of our recent reports.