I have the pleasure of working with a government agency in New Zealand who do things very well when it comes to infrastructure investment in their major cities and across New Zealand. What is impressive is the approach they take to infrastructure which can provide some learning’s for other countries and states. Their mantra for example for Auckland is growing Auckland, connecting New Zealand. A wonderful simple message that also serves to highlight their criteria for infrastructure investment.
Some key learning’s in their approach around how they approach their infrastructure investment includes:
- They constantly talk of their customers. This includes commuters, drivers, stakeholders and the industry that delivers on their projects which includes consultants and contractors;
- Their business cases and strategic plans are sound around how they have chosen projects, expected returns and how they will be funded long term;
- They have a strong focus on investing in infrastructure that will build a strong economy. This includes freight movement, ports, productivity improvements that reduce travel times as well as decreasing bottlenecks that impact on industry and communities;
- Their utilisation of value for money is exceptional when working with service providers. There is a real focus on value for money being the best available outcome or performance for the resources used in delivering objectives rather than the lowest price;
- Customer service is a strong feature of their strategic plans, priorities and the outcomes they are looking to achieve. It is talked about openly in a manner that is refreshing for the public sector;
- Probity is utilised as an objective enabler rather than a curse where the tail wags the dog ie unnecessary red tape getting in the road of delivering outcomes;
- They balance investment in community assets such as hospitals, stadiums and amenities with infrastructure that produces economic development such as roads, bridges, tunnels and ports. This balance is important as you skew too much towards community assets and you will not realise the economic benefits or income producing infrastructure investments required to fund the infrastructure assets long term;
- They understand their service provider’s business models. They take the time to understand how their consultants, contractors and other key service providers make money to be sustainable long term. This extends to also working collaboratively with them to ensure any infrastructure investment is balanced with ensuring the market can resource up appropriately.
If you were to reflect on where we have spent our money in South Australia it appears from the outside to be politically driven rather than strategically targeted to improve productivity and trade. Very little of our investment has grown South Australia or connected us nationally or globally. We have skewed heavily towards community assets without the appropriate balance with economic enabling or income producing infrastructure investments.
With growing debt and potential risks in our economy we have to lift the bar on how we prioritise our infrastructure investment projects going forward. Money for these projects is not a magic pack of Tim Tams that gets replenished every time we spend inadvertently. They have to be wise, against simple criteria and look to either grow South Australia long term or connect us nationally and globally to markets we look to service in the 21st century.