Getting the right information to effectively manage public assets: Lessons from local authorities.

Public assets, such as the roads people drive on, the footpaths they walk on, the infrastructure that delivers drinking water, and the playgrounds and parks that children play on, affect the quality of life of all New Zealanders. Local authorities are responsible for managing these sorts of public assets, and people expect them to be managed well.

Elected councillors are expected to make deliberate and well-informed decisions about how best to manage the assets they govern. To do so, they need relevant and reliable information about those assets. As communities and environments change, the challenges that local authorities face are becoming more complex and so are the decisions that they need to make. For many local authorities, funding is also becoming more constrained. Having high-quality asset information helps local authorities have meaningful discussions with their communities about choices and decisions affecting how services will be delivered.

We looked at how five local authorities approached identifying and gathering the right information on their assets. The five local authorities understood that having high-quality asset information, including a sound understanding of the condition of those assets, gives them more certainty when planning for maintenance and replacement.

Each of the five local authorities tested and continually challenged the quality of the asset information, both when it was gathered and when they were ready to use it. The five local authorities were also looking at how to best store this information so it would be ready and available for both day-to-day and longer-term decisions. Overall, the five local authorities were improving their ability to gather, record, and retain asset information and were making it available to those who need it.

Because local authorities have a lot of assets, they need to use their resources effectively when gathering, recording, and retaining asset information. They need to have a systematic method that prioritises gathering information about the most important assets and for decisions that require the most certainty. If local authorities do not know which assets are the most important, they risk not having the right information when they need it.

Local authorities have more to do to formally identify their most important assets to enable them to prioritise gathering information about them. In my view, this is an issue that needs to be addressed with some priority. I challenge all local authorities to consider how well they understand which of their assets are the most important and how they prioritise information on those assets to effectively maintain them and plan for their replacement.

Successfully gathering and preserving the value of high-quality asset information depends on the participation and commitment of the people who work for and with local authorities. Efforts to improve practices are strengthened when senior leaders openly recognise the importance of high-quality asset information. The people we spoke to at the five local authorities were aware of the need to improve their asset information and have been improving processes and systems to achieve that.

In my view, local authorities – and all asset-intensive entities – must be more open to developing relationships with each other and with peer organisations to share experience and knowledge. The experience and behaviours we saw, supported by improving systems and processes, led me to the view that people in local authorities can contribute more to these kinds of relationships, which they will benefit from as well.

I thank the staff of the five local authorities and the people they engage to gather their asset information for their co-operation and openness.

Signature - GS

Greg Schollum
Deputy Controller and Auditor-General

29 November 2017