Review Local Strategic Plan 2009-2013


Here we go again, five years later.


Clare & Gilbert Valleys Council's Strategic Plan 2008-12 is in its final year. Local governments are required 

under the Local Government Act to prepare Strategic Plans. During the past 5 years or so I've had 

numerous concerns about not only the implementation of Council's Strategic Plan but also whether it was 

ever being used as a primary tool to attain Council's objectives.


The concerns also extend to whether the strategies within the six CORE GOALS were being followed, and 

whether they were being monitored, measured, analysed, reported, and reviewed.


With this scenario in mind, here is the letter I presented to Council as a submisssion for its Strategic 

Plan review.


Mayor, Councillors, Chief Executive, and all staff

Clare & Gilbert Valleys Council

4 Gleeson Street

Clare  SA  5453


SUBJECT :  STRATEGIC PLAN (SP) REVIEW

During my travels around WA I have been made aware of the SP Review, so I’m taking this opportunity to present a submission, which I hope you will all find useful.

In September 2007 I presented a submission on the SP as it then was. Although that submission was brief, it is eerily prescient, as a good proportion of what is contained in it could be re-presented again. 

For some time I have been concerned that the Strategic Plan has not been executed anywhere near as well as it should; it seems that there has not been the resources needed, and there is a question mark over the commitment to execute the SP. If I’m wrong, I will most certainly accept correction.


Some Concerns

Disappointingly I was advised at a meeting at Council’s office in 2011 that the goals pertaining to the “Environment Strategy” in the SP are “aspirational”. I strongly suggest that Strategic Planning involves far greater actions than aspirations. These Actions are very clear in the 2008-12 Strategic Plan. 

A SP is a roadmap, a way to achieve  the big objectives. (See later for an explanation). I also suggest that a review of policies be conducted to determine which should be integrated with the SP. 

What is of further concern is that Actions in the SP are not being carried out, and nor are those in the related policy. One example is the Environmental Sustainability Policy. For the current SP, the greatest concerns are about the extent of implementation of the six core strategies and their related actions, and whether monitoring and reporting programs have beenestablished and carried out. I suspect they have not.

I draw your attention to the Mayor’s message in the SP (page 1) which includes the following ...

“Each year we will review implementation performance against the Strategic Performance Indicators we have set out in the Plan.”


It’s All About Improvement

Contrary to the pro-forma that has been circulated in the community, I’ve decided to include the following comments in the hope that improvements can be made in the performance of Council. I will be as brief as I possibly can.

a.    The current SP is generally fine. It is succinct, it minimises the number of strategies to just six, it defines the Actions and SPI’s reasonably well. The SP is well presented in its present layout, and therefore Council staff and elected members (and the community) should not have much trouble understanding what Council’s Strategy is all about. Therefore, with just a few tweaks here and there, the very same SP could be used for the period 2013-17. BUT ... there has to be implementation of ALL Strategies and Actions, and most importantly frequent measurement, monitoring, reporting, and revision. How this is to be achieved would need to be clearly enunciated in the new SP. 

b.    Ensure that Council staff and elected members understand precisely what Strategic Planning is all about. It is about the organisation, and here is why. (And by the way, I base these comments on my experience in local government and also on my management qualifications).

Firstly, the Strategic Plan focus should be on IMPROVING THE PERFORMANCE OF COUNCIL. I think this is where the present SP has strayed from the main purpose and perhaps has weakened the resolve for its implementation. The focus should be on Council and its human resources and not on the vision for its communities, which is a totally different matter. Therefore, the new SP needs a new vision that aligns with providing the best possible service to satisfy all its goals in the most equitable way. The present vision - “Vibrant communities working together to grow in a dynamic, innovative and sustainable way” - does not align with the six goals. It deflects from the perspective of performance. 

Secondly, it needs to be understood that strategic planning is a most useful value-based management practice. Strategic thinking, planning, improvement, mindset, creativity, focus; all essential elements in the Strategic Planning toolkit. 

Perhaps Council staff have been (and are) involved in such rigours, but there is little evidence that they have been applied to the SP from 2008. There are too many gaps in Actions and SPI’s in the Strategic Plan.

Thirdly, the SP is the master of other plans in Council’s management folio, and so it needs to be elevated accordingly. Does Council have a Strategic Planning team? If so, are team members trained in SP, including measurement, monitoring, recording, assessment, and reporting. Are team members trained in the application of the essential tools available for analysis of the organisation?

SPI’s are fine to have, they are necessary. But if they are not measured then the Strategic Plan is useless, it is meaningless. 

c.    In the current SP, what are the LONG TERM OBJECTIVES? Where is the system for working the SP as it becomes implemented? 
There needs to be monitoring and measurement frameworks, formal reporting at appropriate intervals, and allowances for corrective action. Who is going to do this? What are the benchmarks? Will the community be involved in some way? All these aspects need to be included in the new SP.

d.    Continually ask the question - “how can we improve?” and apply it to every one of the six Goals. For example, “How can we improve Asset and Enterprise Management?” “How can we improve the Environment?” Then conduct a SWOT (Strengths - Weaknesses - Opportunities - Threats) analysis on the various Strategies. A SWOT analysis is a very useful tool to generate clarity in many of the Strategies and Actions in the SP, and indeed should be first and foremost in strategic planning. Examine other systems to improve performance, such as the Argenti System of Strategic Planning. 

e.    Let’s now consider an example - the Economic Development Goal. This is one of the weaknesses in the SP. It is not supported by a Policy (or doesn’t seem to be from my reading at Council’s website) - there is no Industry Assistance policy, and no pro-active strategy for enlisting new developments. The SPI’s are very vague. It is my view that Council should not sit back and just wait for businesses to come. There are many opportunities waiting, but no roadmap to get there. One of the best opportunities resides in the green technology sector and carbon farming; this is the way the world is moving towards and all local Councils need to determine how to get a slice of the action. Remember, high speed broadband is on the way. Strategy 2 is pie-in-the-sky. 

f.    Now consider a key aspect of the Finance Goal. Income sources will always be a concern, and the problem confronting rural SA is the weak voice it has in the political arena. With this in mind, in January I presented a submission to the N&Y NRM Board on it Draft Business Plan. I need to illustrate a point relating to Council’s Finance Goal, so here is part of what I wrote :


“Let’s now look at the financial resources as indicated in the Business Plan. The decline in income from $5.942m to $4.074m in the 3-year period to 2014-15 is a great concern. Sure, external funding may come through at some future time, but in my opinion all NRM Boards in the state have never been properly and adequately funded from the state government. In 2002 I expressed my concerns to the then Minister about lack of funding to the purported Boards. These concerns were instantly dismissed.

If the N&Y NRM Board is satisfied with the current level of state government funding of around $0.53m from 2012-13, then I believe the risk of continual decline in natural resources condition and the risk of ecosystem collapse, will increase substantially. If desired, refer to the articles I have written on my website www.SustainableSpace.info.

If the Board is not content with state government funding then I strongly urge that persistent overtures about this issue be made, including to all political parties, until there is appropriate resourcing. Referring to the general figure of about $913m of annual agricultural production across 7.56m hectares in the region (ref: Yorke and Mid North Regional Roadmap 2010, pg 73), and assuming that this figure is consistent across all years of the Business Plan, then the state government’s contribution of $0.53m (2012-13) to maintain this production and to achieve sustainable natural resources management, and to elicit necessary change, is paltry. Rural folk should not accept this. They should not accept a measly contribution of less than 0.06% when $535m has been allocated by the state government for a spurious Adelaide Oval upgrade.

To make matters worse, reliance on external funding (mostly federal) for the massive work that needs to be done in the N&Y region is a flawed model, and will not result in the landscape-scale change so desperately needed.

It is time that a rural dividend be allocated to the regions based on production and need. All the data is available to configure an appropriate financial model. In my view, a minimum ten-fold increase on the state government’s annual allocation is necessary just to kick-start the landscape-scale change so desperately needed.”


As I’ve stated I’m in WA right now; I’ve travelled through many rural regions where the Royalties For Regions program is visibly evident at the local Council level. Now, I’m not saying that RFR is what is needed in SA (there are political troubles right now with RFR in WA), but in terms of a Strategy for the future, a rural dividend is what is needed. Local Councils would be a major beneficiary, but it will need a strong voice to achieve this; and perhaps the CLGR needs to get some teeth or the LGA needs to raise the political heat on this issue. Will Clare & Gilbert Valleys Council stand up for its communities for a better deal? If so, write it into the Strategic Plan. Food for thought! And just imagine what could be achieved with greater income.


Conclusion

You will have noticed that I have taken a different approach to commenting on the SP; I have not completed the Questionnaire. There are many singular issues that could be canvassed for inclusion in the new SP, and so I refer you to my submission of 2007 for a list of those; they are still relevant today.

A Strategic Plan is not about the fine detail, but about how Council’s organisation is going to get to its long-term objectives. Keep this in mind, and structure the organisation accordingly. Before that can happen of course, strategic thinkers are needed.

Above all, there has to be implementation of ALL Strategies and Actions, and most importantly frequent measurement, monitoring, reporting, and revision.

I hope you find this submission useful in framing the new Strategic Plan.


Sincerely

Des Menz


29 May 2012



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