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Helping build greater capacity and capability for elected members

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By: David Jenkins

When people are elected as councillors or mayors of their local government authority or local municipality, they are also elected as stewards and custodians of that community’s infrastructure assets.

Whether they have been elected to serve on a council such as a major urban centre with a multi-million dollar budget or a small community with a sparse population, the principles are the same: for the period of their tenure, they have a stewardship responsibility for infrastructure assets from roads and bridges to sporting ovals and water treatment.

This means that they are responsible for ensuring that the assets deliver services to the community at the highest possible standard at the lowest lifecycle cost. 

This responsibility is not just for the period of tenure. Elected officials are also responsible for the legacy they will leave for future generations.  

This stewardship responsibility can be a steep learning curve for many elected officials. The council’s executive officers will brief them on budget planning, and many will come to a new understanding of the competing priorities and challenges the organisation is grappling with.

They will gain insight into the decisions that need to be made to ensure that the infrastructure the community relies upon delivers the right levels of service and is maintained effectively.

They will understand how the council budget balances spending and investment and how decisions are made to repair and maintain some assets while also allocating to new capital works within budgetary constraints.

For example, decisions on funding a particular infrastructure asset may have implications on service levels and create opportunity costs which mean other projects are unfunded and postponed. 

For the first time, many elected officials will be dealing with a detailed and holistic asset management plan which addresses issues of environmental and financial sustainability, generational equity and long-term demographic change.

With these challenges in mind, IPWEA is launching a new training module specifically for elected officials to help them understand and execute their stewardship responsibilities.

Effective stewardship means that elected officials are able to understand operational issues as well as long-term asset management plans. 

They need to be able to ask executive officers the right questions in the context of policies and planning. 

Our new IPWEA course Infrastructure Asset Management Planning for Elected Officials is aimed at elected officials with diverse experience, with the goal of providing a resource that helps them understand their roles in infrastructure and asset management.

This should equip them with the knowledge and skills to make informed contributions to their organisations and ultimately deliver better outcomes to the communities they serve. 

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