Local government understands community needs

Today, Acting Auditor-General, Dr Peter Frost, tabled his Local Government Service Delivery: Recreational Facilities audit report.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of local government service delivery of aquatic recreation centres (ARCs). It examined whether councils effectively identify community needs, make soundly based planning decisions and maximise value from their facilities.

The audit found that the audited councils effectively engage with their communities and have a sound understanding of their needs relating to ARCs, and these centres are generally well planned, with feasibility studies and business cases used to support their development.

However, most ARC operations are heavily subsidised by councils who are reliant on grants or other sources of income for new developments and the refurbishment of existing facilities. The cost of providing ARCs should be balanced against social and other community outcomes, yet none of the audited councils effectively evaluate their ARC services to determine how well they are meeting needs and the council’s broader social, health and wellbeing objectives.

Dr Frost said, “It was pleasing to see that the audited councils have effectively engaged with their communities for ARC-related matters, however the significant state and local government investment in ARCs must be seen in light of the broader financial sustainability issues facing the local government sector, including uncertainty about future grant allocations and the introduction of rate capping.

“This heightens the need for councils to better evaluate ARC activities in relation to their overall social, health and wellbeing objectives to justify the ongoing investment.”

The audit also noted that although in most cases councils have provided sound advice on ARC matters to councillors, the communities’ perceived unwillingness to accept some pool closures means that recommended advice has not always been followed.

“Going forward, it will be even more important that ARC investment decisions are based on sound advice and that tough decisions are made when needed,” said Dr Frost.

The audit also examined the role of Sport and Recreation Victoria (SRV), part of the Department of Health & Human Services, which provides financial support to councils in the form of grants, as well as advice and assistance throughout the various stages of ARC development.

The audit found that SRV needs to improve its monitoring and reporting on the outcomes of ARC-related grants to provide greater assurance that grants to councils are achieving their intended objectives. The audit also found that SRV needs to improve regional planning so that facility planning and development is well coordinated and regional impacts are considered, particularly in the case of new developments which may affect neighbouring councils.

“I am pleased SRV has accepted my recommendations to improve regional planning and monitoring, reporting and evaluation. I have made similar recommendations to councils.”