The Inspectorate has found that Yarriambiack Shire Council’s governance and culture has significantly improved since the publication of a 2019 report on the council.
We visited the council in 2022 and found that the council had addressed all of the recommendations made in a report on a 2019 investigation.
The 2019 investigation focused on allegations that community assets and resources had either not been 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 issues previously identified at the council were in relation to the management of resources at the Hopetoun depot. Staff focused on “getting the job done” rather than following rules or procedures. In addition, the inspectorate found that a void in leadership at the council had trickled down and negatively impacted indoor and outdoor staff.
In 2022, the Inspectorate visited the council to collect documentation and interview staff as part of the latest governance examination. It was clear that there had been substantial change at the council leading to better governance and that staff were more invested in their jobs.
In the interim period between the 2019 investigation and our 2022 examination, council provided the Inspectorate with updates about what actions that had been taken or were to be taken, and our visit confirmed that almost all of these had either been started or completed.
We visited Yarriambiack in early February to present the findings of our governance examination to the councillors, chief executive officer (CEO) and executive team.
Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said “Congratulations is to be given to previous 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 completely 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 automated governance systems and processes."
“This was backed up by staff surveys, where there was an 80% satisfaction level, a marked improvement from previous surveys.”
Yarriambiack Shire Council had introduced an automated compliance management tool which improved efficiency and accountability. A new human resources and Finance system also allowed staff to better manage their responsibilities.
The Inspectorate also identified that significant resources had been channeled into regulating staff training across the entire organisation. All staff were 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.
The training is managed centrally through an online training portal which ensures that all staff are suitably held to account.
Mr Stefanovic said: “We found that where poor behaviours were identified at the council, they were 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 highlighted above.”