Melbourne City Council ‘slow’ and ‘bureaucratic’: internal review

Date: June 29, 2015 – 7:03PM

Aisha Dow

“Slow” and “bureaucratic” is how Melbourne City Council has been described in an unflattering internal review, which has criticised ageing senior leaders for not spending enough time looking at the big picture.

In a document that flags concerns Melbourne could lose its liveable-city status, it was found the municipality is at the “crossroads of either stagnating or embarking on next wave of change”.

The council’s five long-serving directors, who had been in the same job for between five to 19 years, were singled out for failing to work as a team in the report chaired by former Brisbane City Council chief executive Jude Munro.

“Directors are relatively senior in age, lengthy in tenure, male-dominated and lacking in ethnic diversity,” the review said. “They are seen to focus on operational issues to the marked detriment of leading strategic approaches.”

Questions were also raised about the efficiency of the council.

A number of external groups told the review that dealing with council was “bureaucratic” and “slow”, while finding the right person to deal with could be difficult.

Within the council, there were problems getting staff from different departments to work together. “For example, it can take up to six employees, two forms and two weeks to assign an employee to a project,” the review said.

And most staff were frustrated with the IT systems, which were described as “antiquated” and behind”. Many employees were working manually where it would be more efficient to work electronically or automatically.

However it was also noted the majority of employees had a strong passion for Melbourne and were willing to work long hours “for a city they love”.

The council’s new chief executive, Ben Rimmer, commissioned and published the review. He said most large government organisations would find that it “takes them too long to make decisions”, but the council was committed to improving this.

“We’ve had a good hard look at ourselves,” the said. “There are some areas that we want to review I am confident that we can review quite rapidly.”

A 32-page action plan has already been produced to address the problems raised.

It includes a pledge to update council’s 10-year community plan “Future Melbourne”, which is about seven years old, and to improve succession and retirement planning.

Four of Melbourne top directors have worked at the council for more than a decade. Renowned urban planner Rob Adams is the longest serving, having been at the municipality for almost 30 years.

Mr Rimmer said while it was good “as a general rule” to have some change in the management team for new perspectives and ideas, the wealth of experience and knowledge long-serving staff brought was also valued.

The review’s chair, Jude Munro, said there was always a risk that when people were in the same role for a long time they could “become used to working in a certain way”.

“Our report was talking about greater teamwork and collaboration and their role shifting to have better focus on planning for their organisation”.

Victoria’s capital is facing a period of rapid change, with the population of the inner-city set to almost double – from 122,000 people to 205,000 by 2031.

There will be increasing competition to win the Economist Intelligence Unit’s most-liveable city accolade and the review warned the loss of this crown would affect Melbourne’s ability to attract talent and investment.