Editorial: Audit's damning conclusion

Last updated 08:32 26/07/2012
Christchurch City Council
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
BUNKER MENTALITY: Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt vowed yesterday to take steps to change the organisation's culture.
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Chris Skelton
Mayor Bob Parker

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The findings of the independent audit of how the Christchurch City Council communicates both internally, among council staff and between staff and elected members, and externally with ratepayers will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the council's activities over the past few years.

Disgruntlement with external communication in particular has not been confined to businesspeople finding fault with the council's consent processes, but has been widespread among a community that has, for some time, felt that the organisation has lost sight of its fundamental responsibility to keep everyone promptly, reliably and consistently informed about its activities.

One aspect of this emerged in criticism of the Mayor Bob Parker before the most recent local body election. Parker said he "got it" and promised to do better.

To most observers, however, he did not "get it" and even making allowance for the huge disruption caused by the earthquakes, and the fact that the council is no longer the only entity determining the city's fate, matters, far from improving, have if anything got worse.

The communications audit puts its finger on the problem with its finding that it is not in the organisation's culture to engage with external stakeholders beyond the formal requirements of consultation. It goes on to say - and anyone who has dealt with the council will know its truth - that with a few notable exceptions there is a reluctance at all levels of the organisation to foster relations with stakeholders.

It is a damning conclusion.

This fault in one of the council's core functions - keeping in touch with those for whom it is supposed to be working and who pay for it - appears to be not a mere superficial shortcoming, but part of the organisation's DNA. For that, the Mayor and the city's chief executive, Tony Marryatt, must take the blame. Given that culture of reluctance to communicate, it is little wonder that when the earthquakes struck, the council had no hope of adapting quickly to the many new and heavy demands put on it.

The audit is both rigorous and fair, and not all of its findings are negative. It concludes, for instance, that the council does an excellent job of promoting and marketing its individual services and events, and residents are largely satisfied with them.

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Internal communication among staff also is good. But there is an absence of trust between some councillors, management and staff that prevents timely communication.

According to the audit, the council has about 156 people who engage in activities that can reasonably be described as "communication".

Those with the most significant public communications job, those in the public affairs group, are not however accountable for directing and prioritising communications across the council and this is hindering the ability of the council to communicate effectively. The effects of this are obvious and it needs to be remedied quickly.

The audit has cost about $80,000, taken about six months to complete and has produced 13 key recommendations. They contain much good sense and the council should act on them.

It is a pity that it has taken an outside audit at such a fee to arrive at what the council should have been able to conclude for itself. But if it proves to be the circuitbreaker needed to radically change the council's culture, it will have been time and money well spent.

- The Press

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