• Media release

19 Apr 2023

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An independent review of Southland District Council’s environmental services group has recommended areas for improvement. An independent review of Southland District Council’s environmental services group has recommended areas for improvement.

Council appointed Morrison Low to review the environmental services group, which is made up of environmental management, building solutions and environmental health/animal control. The group performs the regulatory role within Council and is responsible for delivery of the key statutory functions of a territorial authority under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), the Building Act 2004, the Food Act 2014, the Dog Control Act 1996 and many other pieces of legislation. It also considered correspondence from local consultants.

The review identifies several issues affecting the operation of the group, not least the reforms currently under way from central government. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the details of how each of these services will be delivered in the future and the potential timing of these changes.  An example of this is the co-ordination with the three waters team and building solutions and environmental management. If the three waters team is external to Council, a way of still doing this will need to be worked out.

There are also staffing shortages across all three teams. This is compounded by a lack of skilled contractors available, and adding to that is the large size of Southland district, where site visits and inspections can be from one side of the region to the other.

The review identifies five common themes, which present opportunities for improvement across the three services:

i. Quality systems: continuing on the path of implementing a full quality-based system, using a modern approach to quality to improve processes for efficiency and consistency.

ii. Consistency and transparency

  • ensuring consistency between internal and external application processes and timeframes
  • spot checking of externally processed applications for consistency, but not to the extent the application is processed twice
  • establishing strong communication channels with industry so that changes can be signalled and common issues can be addressed, giving industry the time to adjust and improve the overall quality of applications received.

iii. Balancing compliance and customer service 

  • using a risk-based approach to prioritise outcomes to be achieved or avoided and focus available resources on these outcomes
  • ensuring that all staff are trained and aware of the relative risks in the applications they are involved with and that a consistent approach to risk management is used by all staff
  • implementing regular customer surveys to seek feedback on their experience of the process, and a key performance indicator (KPI) around customer satisfaction so that reporting reflects customer service as a priority. Note that any KPI should be objective and not related to the decisions made by the teams. For example, average time to respond to request for service (RFS).

iv. Availability of information online

  • ensuring all existing website information is current and correct
  • testing website layout with actual users to ensure that information can be found in intuitive locations
  • examining RFSes for common questions that could be added to the online content
  • potential development of simple guides that explain the process for common activities/questions eg “How do I…”.

v. Internal Council communication

  • improving processes around handling customer requests that involve multiple parts of Council, with clear communication around what is expected of the customer.

In addition, the report identifies specific areas within each service where improvements can be made.

In response to the review, Council staff are developing an improvements implementation plan, which will be closely monitored to ensure that the recommendations in the review are implemented in a timely fashion.

Chief executive Cameron McIntosh said he welcomed the report and the opportunities it suggests to make constructive changes that will improve services to ratepayers, residents and customers.

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