Mayor explains reasoning behind transparency and integrity hub

The first official meeting of the new Ipswich City Council on Monday (2pm, 27 April) will see Mayor Teresa Harding put forward a motion to establish a transparency and integrity hub. 

Details of the motion and how the hub is expected to operate have been published on the council agenda ahead of the inaugural meeting. 

The hub will be a first for local government in Australia and designed to set the gold standard for public sector governance. 

“I have been inundated with support and positive feedback from across the community and all levels of government about the establishment of the transparency and integrity hub,” said Mayor Harding. 

Mayor Harding is the former head of open data for the Queensland Government. 

She said her vision for transparent government was an election commitment and also a personal ethical view about how governments should be accountable to those who ultimately fund the public purse – the ratepayer. 

“While this concept is new to Australia, it has been adopted as public sector best practice in many other countries across the globe,” Mayor Harding said. 

“People are curious about what the hub might look like and how it will function and they are especially eager to understand how it will create public value. 

“Transparency, accountability and integrity are at the heart of good governance and must be at the centre of every action taken by this newly elected council.” 

Mayor Harding outlined 13 key points of the transparency and integrity hub:

  1. What is the hub?

The hub will provide the public with direct access to past and present financial data and other relative material from council and its controlled entities. It is envisioned that the data will be published in an intuitive and user-friendly technology platform with the ability to analyse, visualise and download data sets.

  1. Why is it so important?

At the declaration of office, your council accepted the responsibility of upholding local government principles under the Local Government Act 2009, which are:

  • transparent and effective processes, and decision-making in the public interest; and
  • sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure, and delivery of effective services; and
  • democratic representation, social inclusion and meaningful community engagement; and
  • good governance of, and by, local government; and
  • ethical and legal behaviour of councillors and local government employees.

The hub sets the benchmark and enables us to demonstrate that we are meeting these principles. It is ratepayers’ money and we must be transparent about how it is being spent.

  1. Who else is doing this?

The adoption of open government platforms to publish financial data in near to real-time is very common in other countries. There are multitudes of case-studies of cities leading the way internationally and your council will ensure that the lessons learned will be taken into account. 

Some examples include:

(*This is not an endorsement for any specific platform and has been included to provide examples of the hub’s potential)

  1. Will the hub deliver value for money?

Currently, ratepayer’s money is spent on dealing with Right to Information (RTI) requests and most of what is being requested should be public. It is anticipated that the investment in developing and delivering the hub will lessen the number of RTI requests as well as other general enquiries and also enable better decisions leading to efficiencies. After the initial publication, the hub will largely be an automated process with minimal effort from council officers, again saving time and money. 

  1. Will the hub share personal data?

No. Personal information will not be shared; the focus of the hub is on the financial transparency of council operations.

  1. Is this a permanent feature of council or will it disappear in six months?

It is intended that the hub will be permanent and become a vital tool for residents and the council moving forward.

  1. What investment will the hub need?

A budget limit has been set of no more than $200,000, which is 0.25 per cent of the $78 million lost by Ipswich City Properties (ICP) or 0.032 per cent of the council’s 2019-20 budget ($606.1 million). It is expected that a further $100,000 will be allocated for each following year to maintain the hub.

  1. How can we trust the data?

The data will be direct from council’s financial system, the same data that is audited under the council’s legal obligations. The hub will be governed by an internal group who will also receive advice from council’s transparent governance community reference group.

  1. Will the hub show councillor expenses such as travel?

Yes. It is proposed that all councillor related expenses, allowances and reimbursements will be published monthly including contextual details of expenses incurred and purpose, to enable benchmarking and comparison. It is proposed that data will be published for the previous five financial years. Where travel costs have been absorbed by specific project costs, these will also be included.

  1. Are there probity issues relating to the Mayor’s open government networks?

The mayor, due to her previous role, possesses knowledge of vendors and has many individuals in her network who are involved in delivering open government solutions. The mayor will formally declare this as part of the process, however she will have no involvement in the selection of the company involved through the open market procurement process. The decision will be made in accordance with the delegations to the CEO and officers, as per the Local Government Act.

  1. How will the hub be established?

The underpinning principles and deliverable of the hub are described in the motion and this will inform the scoping of the solution requirements. Council will use an open tender process to engage subject matter experts to deliver the underpinning platform that will power the hub. While the procurement and hub development process is underway, available data will still be published once the council motion has been voted upon. The hub will focus on legacy data of the previous council first, with publication proposed to start 1 July 2020.

  1. Will the hub include other modern public sector approaches for digital citizen engagement and transformation?

The primary focus is the publication of the legacy data and your council’s current financial data however it is the mayor’s vision that council will explore more ways for community engagement to be enhanced with digital technologies, such as:

  • Modern participatory budgeting
  • Budget gamification
  • Survey and tools
  • Contemporary Smart City approaches that empower the community.
  1. Is the money and time better spent on dealing with COVID-19?

Supporting the community and businesses through COVID-19 is a priority for council but we know that due to the previous council, there is little trust. The hub goes to the heart of rebuilding trust, it will show in detail where money is going now; no more spin, no more games. The community can start putting its trust back in this council at a time of great need because the hub keeps your council accountable to you.

For further information: Council agenda

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  >>>New transparency and integrity hub for Ipswich City Council

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