Signpost to inefficiency

LAKE Macquarie City Council’s explanation for the seemingly circuitous process involved in erecting a new suburb sign at Redhead is hardly reassuring.

It took 14 council staff members two months to act on a request by Councillor Daniel Wallace to put up the new sign.

And that was an expedited result, achieved via the council’s ‘‘VIP and MP request system’’. According to the council, that system ‘‘alerts relevant council officers of high-priority requests made by councillors and MPs, so the officers can act as promptly as possible’’.

Defending this high-priority system for VIP requests, the council acknowledged that Cr Wallace was wrongly sent not one, but three responses from the organisation.

And now it seems the hard-won suburb sign has gone missing, apparently stolen.

The council can’t be blamed for the sign’s disappearance, of course, but that somehow seems the icing on what some might consider a perfect bureaucratic mud-cake of inefficiency, topping off the layers of apparent delay and duplication.

In a sense, this small issue is emblematic of much that many people find to criticise about local government.

Rightly or wrongly, many ratepayers seem to believe their councils are featherbedded with an excess of employees (although perhaps not necessarily in service delivery areas), that they struggle to deliver value for money in some key areas and that they often tend to move with unreasonable slowness.

It also appears to have become accepted wisdom that local government ‘‘reforms’’ designed to depoliticise council decision-making have made the bureaucracies more opaque and less accountable.

When confronted by demands to be more financially ‘‘sustainable’’, council bureaucracies invariably seem to resist attempts to reduce their own size and cost, and instead present councillors and ratepayers with ultimatums that involve selling assets, cutting services or both.

Cr Wallace evidently hopes that publicising his frustration over the Redhead sign episode will prompt some improvements, and council general manager Brian Bell has promised to ‘‘put controls in place to make sure there’s a better system in future’’.

Ratepayers will be hoping that might mean fewer pairs of delaying hands on straightforward requests for service.

Containing the rage

THE state government says ‘‘there is nothing to stop’’ private sector investment in a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle. Except, possibly, an apparent lack of interest on the government’s part in permitting that to happen.

The government knows well that Newcastle wants and needs to diversify its port activity away from near-exclusive reliance on coal. It would be comforting to see it act on that knowledge by helping the city achieve its goal.

Novocastrians don’t want a re-run of Labor’s infamous car import terminal sell-out, in which politicians browbeat the importers into abandoning their preferred option of Newcastle in favour of more electorally helpful Port Kembla.

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