MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire spent more than $6 million on consultants in the 2013-14 financial year.
The figure has been provided to council watcher and southern peninsula resident Barry Robinson, who for several years has been asking the shire how much it spends on external advice.
It is not a complete response, but a significant change in what appeared to have been a policy of denying info to ratepayers over a number of years on a wide range of issues.
In 2013-14, $6.24 million was spent on consultants.
As to being given more detailed figures, shire sustainable organisation director Bruce Rendall told Mr Robinson by letter on 6 January: “I have asked … staff to investigate the potential effort required to prepare a consultancies disclosure similar to that required from state government organisations.”
Mr Robinson, a retired bank executive, had asked that the shire annual report include a list of consultancy expenses “for projects, or contemplated projects, during the financial year”.
He told Mr Rendall he had corresponded directly with former shire CEO Michael Kennedy “for no tangible result” on the matter, then asked a question about expenses at the 14 October 2014 council meeting.
On 27 October he wrote to Mr Rendall saying: “I received a letter … from your predecessor, Ms Marilyn Kearney, stating that ‘The current system does not accurately accommodate the reporting of funds spent on consultancies…’.”
He said Ms Kearney agreed to include data in the 2013-14 annual report.
“Perusal (of the report) shows that such information is not included and I am enquiring why this information, which would be helpful to both ratepayers and, dare I say it, some shire staff, has not been incorporated … and apparently is still not available,” Mr Robinson wrote.
Receiving no response, Mr Robinson informed Mr Rendall by letter on 22 December that he’d received no reply.
A week later Mr Rendall apologised for the delay. “While a response was prepared … it seems this was not sent,” he wrote.
In that response Mr Rendall – a relative newcomer to the shire – said: “Your questions have piqued my interest … I find myself agreeing that we can certainly provide more detailed information about expenditure.
“Council has made changes to its chart of accounts (regarding consultancies) … From the 2014-15 year onwards we are collecting more fine grained data on consultant expenditure.”
As well as this undertaking, Mr Robinson received good news about the previously secret – with the strong support of some councillors – list of shire land held for sale. The list should be published within the next two weeks – that is, by 20 January.
Mr Robinson belongs to a small group (among them Alan Nelsen and Gary Howard of Mornington Peninsula Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association) who make annual submissions to the shire budgetary process on such mysteries as rate rises, debt and ways to keep shire costs down.
Now the winds of change are stirring the curtains at the shire offices, veteran council watchers are smiling as they sense, by way of such matters as hitherto withheld information on land sales and consultants’ fees, that Mornington Peninsula Shire has entered a bright new era.