Send in the Clowns David Pitchford calls for ministerial inquiry into breach of confidentiality

Melbourne City Council Chief Executive Officer, David Pitchford, has called for a ministerial inquiry into what he alleges is a branch of confidentiality under the provisions of the Victorian local Government act.

Earlier the Melbourne City Council had received a $300,000 efficiency report from experts Earnst and Young consultants.

In order to prevent the details of the report becoming public the City Council’s CEO had declared the report confidential thus preventing ratepayer’s right to know the details of the recommendations. It is understood that the report has recommended up to 10 million dollars in savings, including the reorganisation and reduction in Council Staff, can be made to the Council’s recurrent budget.

Reports in the media, earier this month, have given rise for concern by the David Pitchford, Melbourne’s CEO, that Council’s right to confidentiality had been breached.

David Pitchford in his report to Tuesday’s Council meeting, which was brought forward one week in order to discuss issues related to Council finances, had expressed concern that:-

An article on the front page of The Age newspaper on 9 May 2007 (See insert), there are a number of quotes and assertions made by the journalist which could imply that one or more Councillors had possibly breached Section 77 (1) of the Act.

The article states:

  • ‘However, one councillor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, has described the report as “a bombshell” ’.
  • ‘A second councillor told The Age the Ernst & Young consultants had “identified
    some very serious inadequacies within certain departments” ‘.
  • ‘”It implies what a lot of us have been wanting: a shrinkage of directors,” the councillor said.’

Mr Pitchford is apparently of the belief that such benign words constitutes a possible breach of the local government act that also imposed sever penalties including dismissal of Councillors should they be found guilty of breaching the provision of the local governement act.

Guilty of what? Discussing the issues confronting Councils budget and finances in general terms in the course of public debate.

The report to Council made no mention of the fact that the Lord Mayor, John So had just yesterday made mention of details of information contained in the report that Council want hidden, leaving the question is the CEO being a tad bias and overreacting by seeking to intimidate the Council for passing general comment on a document that is in the public interest and should be made public.

Transcript 3AW Morining Radio: Neil Mitchell (8:35AM 23 May 2007)

The following is a transcript of John So on Melbourne Radio 3AW. I leave iot upt to you to read and decide. Does John So really know anything about budgets and fiscal policy?

NEIL MITCHELL: So you’re not going to cut $4.2 million?
JOHN SO: This is not cutting. This is a saving…
NEIL MITCHELL: How are you going to save $4.2 million?
JOHN SO: It’s very… I mean that’s like any business. I run business. As a business operator, I definitely can identify ways, ways to do things more effectively, more efficiently and every budget you factor into 10 per cent increases in like, you get the budget now. I mean the Family Needs funding has increased by 10 per cent and these…
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, but are you going to cut any spending at all?
JOHN SO: No, no. We have significantly increased the services right through the city.
NEIL MITCHELL: How much are you going to pick up by productivity improvements?
JOHN SO: $4.2 million.
NEIL MITCHELL: So you are going to save $4.2 million somehow, but you’re not going to cut it. So you want to say save, rather than cut, right?
JOHN SO: Oh yeah, absolutely.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, are you going to save any jobs? Are you going to cut any jobs? Are you going to reduce staff anywhere? Oh for God’s sake.
JOHN SO: [indistinct] administration where we’ll drop into the overall [indistinct] organisation and how, you know, where they can identify productivity gains…
NEIL MITCHELL: But what does that mean? Are you going to cut staff or not? Are you going to cut staff or not?
JOHN SO: We – there are some – yes, there is places that will be new, that staff can be relocated to it elsewhere. But this is – the report hasn’t come in…
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, then, come on, are you going to cut staff or not? Relocate, where to? Within the same organisation? Are we playing games here, $4.2 million or are we…
JOHN SO: That $4.2 million as I say, we identify as a core, and we will, and the positivities are core savings but this something that neither have been factored in. it’s a year process. At the moment, I can’t give you the figures.
NEIL MITCHELL: No I don’t want figures. I want a principle. Are you going to cut staff? Hello.
JOHN SO: Yes, we get some staff redundants. Yes of course.
NEIL MITCHELL: Can you tell me how much the budget is on marketing and public relations?
JOHN SO: I haven’t got the figure in front of me. Have you?
NEIL MITCHELL: Do you know how much it’s increased since 2001?
JOHN SO: In that area, that’s what we will be [indistinct]. You can find something but I think that we will do it, yes.
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah, I know but has it increased significantly since 2001?
JOHN SO: Oh yes. It has…
NEIL MITCHELL: What percentage, roughly?
JOHN SO: There has been significant increase in many areas but not just the marketing, but in the events and that the events is based on the number of activities in the city centre.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay, thank you very much for your time.
JOHN SO: Okay, nice talking to you Neil.
NEIL MITCHELL: Councillor John So, the Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne. Look, there’s not just a language barrier there. I mean John So’s a little hard to understand but his English is pretty good. It’s not just a language barrier there, it’s a political barrier. I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. But I do know the City Councils is headed for the red. Deficit. I suspect I know why.