The City of Ottawa's auditor general Alain Lalonde says the municipality still needs to improve its 311 service, which provides incorrect answers 27 per cent of the time. ((CBC))

More than half the recommendations made by the City of Ottawa's auditor general since 2005 have been "substantially" implemented, a review has found.

Of the 744 recommendations made by Alain Lalonde, 53 per cent have been implemented to make city services more efficient, timely and cost effective, according to a report issued Wednesday.

Lalonde has said the city's main areas for improvement are:

  • The 311 service, which is supposed to provide public access to non-emergency services, but still provides incorrect information 27 per cent of the time.
  • Its approach to public-private partnerships.
  • The process for tracking requests made to city council, which still doesn't have a way of dealing with informal inquiries.
  • Environmental commitments in the city's growth management strategy.

Lalonde has noted plans to see whether outsourcing would improve the 311 service are now scheduled to be implemented in 2011.

"Maybe that's something you want that group to do a little more quickly," he said.

Lalonde has also noted that management is still examining the structure of the city's process for developing public-private partnerships.

"It's an area that still is looking to find itself," he said. "And that's something I want to bring to your attention because more and more if we're embarking on [public-private partnerships], we should have a clear policy, we should have a clear direction."

Coun. Rick Chiarelli, who was on the committee that conducted the audit review, said overall the report shows reassuring progress at implementing recommendations "that I think most people in the public thought just sat on shelves."

Net cost

Many of the audits are triggered by calls to the city's fraud and waste hotline, where city employees and the public can offer anonymous tips about alleged mismanagement of city funds.

Even though the auditor's recommendations are intended to reduce waste and save money, so far they haven't done that, Chiarelli said.

"Most of the AG's recommendations over the years have a net cost to the city," he said. That's because they may require more employees and greater oversight.

When it comes to recommendations that haven't been implemented, Chiarelli said the problem is often that they require more money.

He believes it may be necessary to expand the auditor general's mandate to generate savings.

"The real money is going to be in looking at the structure of the city's bureaucracy," he said.