Elected Local Government members are key stakeholders in asset management, but with their election come responsibilities.
Many of the key decision makers responsible for the $30 billion in annual spending by Australia’s Local Government sector are not professional engineers or asset managers, they are elected by the communities they serve.
Elected mayors and councilors come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common and that is they are also involved in the management of an estimated $340 billion in infrastructure assets maintained by the local government sector.
Many of these elected representatives will have a limited tenure in local government. For any number of reasons they may only serve one or two terms, but the decisions they make will have a lasting impact over a long period and in some cases will endure for decades or more.
The total cost of some assets can be up to five times the initial cost, which means that for every $200,000 spent on a new project council must be prepared to commit another $800,000 over future budgets.
Ten year financial plans need to be founded on sound 20 year asset management plans, which will outlive the tenure of elected members and often the careers of full-time professionals.
For these reasons, good governance is critical. IPWEA would also contend that in 2022 this also includes a responsibility to have an understanding of best practice asset management, so their decisions can be well informed and they can work harmoniously and collaboratively with the professional officers working for their communities.
Elected members are chosen to be custodians of community assets, and in that role, they need to consider issues such as the whole of life cost of the assets and the impact of their decisions over the long term.
Success for these elected representatives should be about following a long term infrastructure plan that is financially sustainable and make sound choices based off community feedback and priorities. The priority may be renewing existing assets.
Today, there are different and more sophisticated measures of what success in elected roles looks like, and key to this is understanding the principles of sustainable asset management.
This requires an identification of inventory and services levels, an understanding of future demand, the preparation of a life cycle management plan, and rigorous risk and financial projections.
Regardless of how small or large the council is, all councils throughout Australia need to embrace this approach to asset management and ensure that it is integrated into council thinking at all levels.
Elected members have the choice on the legacy they leave for future generations, not just for the time they serve on the council because local councils are about delivering services, building futures and enhancing lifestyles for the long term.
Elected members are part of something much bigger than themselves, and it is incumbent on them to take measurable steps to make positive long term contributions to the sustainable management of their communities.