The objective of this audit was to determine if local government entities (LGs) effectively manage their records to promote accountable and transparent decision making. Our audit was a snapshot of recordkeeping practice in 4 LGs with a diverse range of characteristics. We reviewed a small number of records at each LG, restricted to important areas where we expected to see good recordkeeping practice.
LGs are involved in a range of activities and make decisions on a daily basis that directly impact their local community. These activities include waste management, recreational facilities, planning approvals, home business and short-term rental applications, health inspections and pet management. In addition, councillors debate, set policy and can make local government rules and resolutions. All of these activities generate records.
Records can take many forms including letters, memos, emails, photos, videos, recordings and social media posts. They are important because they are the corporate knowledge of an organisation, independent of staff turnover. They may also form important evidence in legal proceedings or have priceless value as an historic record. Most importantly, records and good recordkeeping practice promote accountable and transparent decision making.
The State Records Act 2000 (the Act) sets the framework for records management of state and local government entities. Under the Act, the State Records Commission is required to produce standards and principles. The Act also requires all government entities, including LGs, to develop a recordkeeping plan (RKP) outlining how they will comply with the standards and principles. RKPs must be approved by the State Records Commission.
The RKP is used to define key business activities and functions and to demonstrate that recordkeeping tools are in place. These include:
- policies and procedures to support the RKP
- consistent identification and naming of records
- preservation, retention and disposal of records
- compliance activities such as:
- staff training
- monitoring and evaluation of records management practice
- compliance reporting.
The State Records Office (SRO) provides administrative assistance and technical advice to the State Records Commission. It also provides advice to LGs and other government entities on the development of RKPs and feedback once the RKP has been submitted for approval. Every 5 years, LGs must submit an amended or reviewed RKP for approval. These relationships are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: LG recordkeeping plan relationships
The 137 local governments and 9 regional councils we checked have recordkeeping plans approved by the State Records Commission, as required. However, the 4 LGs we reviewed were not effectively implementing them, or managing their records to promote accountable and transparent decision making. Recordkeeping tools that support implementation, such as policies and procedures, training, and monitoring were not adequately developed. LGs could also do more to better protect their digital records.
- Recordkeeping plans are approved but lack supporting policies and procedures.
- Recordkeeping plans are current and approved.
- Recordkeeping plans are not supported by adequate LG policies and procedures.
- Implementation of recordkeeping plans is poor.
- More regular and thorough records training is needed.
- LGs do limited monitoring of staff records management practice.
- Records are often held too long.
- Important records are not properly managed.
- Some records were missing or difficult to find.
- Records were often stored outside records management systems.
- Protection of records is mixed.
- Physical records were generally well managed.
- Digital records recovery could be better.
All LGs, including those not sampled in this audit, should review their recordkeeping policies and procedures to ensure they adequately support their RKP. LGs should implement:
- regular and thorough records training
- regular reviews of staff recordkeeping practices
- timely disposal of records
- adequate protection over digital records.
Under section 7.12A of the Local Government Act 1995, all sampled LGs are required to prepare an action plan addressing significant matters relevant to their entity for submission to the Minister for Local Government within 3 months of this report being tabled in Parliament and for publication on the entity’s website. The action plan for every LG in our sample should address each point above.
Response from audited local government entities
The 4 LGs in our sample have accepted the audit findings and recommendations. They all recognise the importance of continuous improvement in their recordkeeping practices.
Most LGs advised they were planning to address findings in the near future, with some being addressed already.
One LG commented that it is a challenge for smaller sized LGs to find a balance between cost and benefit in relation to records management controls. This LG felt that the findings confirmed they had achieved the right balance.