WHAT'S HAPPENING IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects and publishes regular data on Local Government Finance, including the amount and purpose of local government expenditure. Annual financial data is collected from each state's Grants Commission/Department of Local Government and the ABS also undertakes quarterly sample surveys of councils.
Currently, the Grants Commission/Department of Local Government for each state are dispatching their electronic forms for the Annual 2008-09 Local Government Finance Collection. The financial and function data on these forms are edited with the output being used by the ABS to compile Government Finance Statistics. Data is expected to be published in Government Finance Statistics, Australia (cat. no. 5512.0) in early April next year.
The ABS return dates differ across jurisdictions, with some seeking information as early as mid-October and others due by the end of November. Returning forms earlier than the due date will greatly assist both the Grants Commission/Department of Local Government and the ABS to achieve their data processing schedules.
The ABS also conducts a quarterly survey of financial information which will be dispatched to a small selected sample of councils in the third week of September. There have been no changes to the actual questions, but some definitions have been updated to make the form clearer with regard to where financial data items should and should not be included. Responses to the quarterly survey are required by 8 October 2009 (6 working days after the end of the quarter). Early attention to getting the forms to the ABS will ensure that the financial activity of local government is accurately represented in Australia's National Accounts.
The ABS thanks councils for their cooperation in providing high quality data for these collections. Information provided is used in making important policy decisions concerning the sector and it is important that accurate and timely information is returned by councils in building this data set.
ABS and Grants Commissions/Department of Local Governments working together
The ABS and Grants Commissions/Department of Local Governments are continuing to work toward improving the consistency of finance data collected by each state or territory for Local Government finance statistics.
The ABS recently liaised with the Grants Commissions to discuss the proposed National Minimum Data Set (NMDS) of financial data items. This data set has been proposed by the ABS to improve data consistency across the jurisdictions in the collection of Local Government finance statistics and to minimise provider load by reducing the need to run separate surveys to meet user requirements.
The NMDS seeks to integrate key user requirements for selected data items from the Income Statement, Cash Flow Statement, Balance Sheet and Reconciliation Statement. For Income and Cash Flow Statements, some of these items are cross-classified by other classifications such as Function (Purpose) Data.
The challenges of implementing the NMDS, as well as the proposed way forward, were discussed with a number of Grants Commissions. For the 2008/09 Annual collection, the focus has been on identifying and addressing priority areas of the Grants Commission survey forms which are inconsistent with the NMDS.
These efforts follow the Grant Commissions Executive Office's meeting on Thursday 12 February 2009 where the ABS and Grants Commissions committed to work towards improving the quality and consistency of local government statistics. At this meeting the ABS and Grants Commissions also continued to work at ways of practically implementing the Local Government Purpose Classification, being mindful of the accounting burden this potentially imposes on councils. The Local Government Purpose Classification (cat. no. 5514.0.55.002) outlines Function related categories of services for local government, such as road services, community development and planning, and environmental protection services.
The ABS is also now engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, including the National Local Government Financial Management Forum.
For further information or inquiries about Local Government Statistics, contact the Local Government Statistical Unit on (07) 3222 6033.