Auditor-General's overview

Local government: Examples of better practice in setting local authorities' performance measures.

This paper discusses the examples of better practice that we saw in performance measures within local authorities' 2009-19 long-term council community plans (LTCCPs). We have prepared this discussion paper to promote discussion about improvement rather than be a technical guide on performance measures for various activities.

Performance measures play an important part in accountability documents because they are the basis for assessing whether levels of service have been achieved.

I have a significant interest in improving public management and, within this, how performance information is used both internally and externally for assessing performance and used for making decisions. In my view, there is a clear link between improving service performance information and reporting, and improving effectiveness and efficiency in the public sector – both in actual performance and in demonstrating that performance through better accountability. Through the LTCCP and annual report audit processes, my auditors have been encouraging local authorities to improve how they report on the services they provide to their communities.

Although performance information has improved since the 2006-16 LTCCPs, its quality could be higher. As a consequence, in the 2012-22 LTCCP audits, we will continue to focus on forecast service performance information and the performance measures within this.

I consider that better performance information and reporting can help us understand and address the public sector's current and ongoing challenges. Providing relevant and understandable performance information will contribute towards building a relationship of trust and confidence between local authorities and their communities. Likewise, providing community members with meaningful information gives them a greater opportunity to understand and take an interest in their local authority and the city or district in which they live.

In preparing this discussion paper, we saw a wide range of performance measures and management approaches. This was expected, given the breadth of services that local authorities provide and the diversity of their communities and their needs. This paper discusses commonly used performance measures within common activities identified for selected local authorities.

There were other examples of well-developed performance measures but, on the whole, performance measures could be of a higher quality – more appropriate and more meaningful. I would also like to emphasise that it is the quality of the performance measures that matter, not the quantity.

Parliament is currently considering changes to the Local Government Act 2002. The proposals suggest streamlining the present system of non-financial performance reporting to focus more on major issues and changes to levels of service, and to start benchmarking common performance measures for certain important services. If adopted, the proposals will significantly affect the local government sector. I hope this paper will also stimulate discussion and debate about the nature and type of activities and information that may be usefully benchmarked, and what we may need to understand about the basis for, and results of, benchmarking.

I have high expectations that, given the opportunity, time, and guidance, local authorities will rise to the challenge of enhancing the quality of performance information in their accountability documents. I look forward to seeing that improvement reflected in future LTCCPs, annual plans, and annual reports.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

15 June 2010

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