Scrutinising the council balance sheet

Published: 24th September 2021

How we conceive of things

As indicated in last week’s CEO wrap, I’m going to throw out a few challenges to member councils over the next month in the lead up to my final Annual Conference in October. 

Please accept them as my thoughts and not LGAQ Policy.

This week, I want to encourage you to spend as much time scrutinising the council balance sheet at council meetings as you do the profit and loss statement, what we generally refer to as the Budget.

Contrast these two figures at a state level: annual aggregate operational and capital spending by Queensland councils is circa $13 billion, whereas the balance sheet number is a whopping $150 billion.

It begs a series of questions as to how hard we should sweat the communities assets, what the return on our assets is, leasing versus buying, sharing assets, reconceiving the geographical boundaries of assets e.g. waste facilities set up on a regional basis to save on logistics, treatment and disposal costs. 

What about generating our own energy on site to power water and sewerage processes, the so called parasitic load?

How big should our plant fleet be? Can we share? What’s really necessary kit and what is nice to have on the odd occasion we might need it?

Are there value-added products to be derived by downstream processing of biomass, waste, sewerage, old pavement…you name it?

Council assets don't need to be contiguous to achieve the benefits of economic scope and scale. 

With the advent of virtual reality, drone technology, robots and AI in all its various forms, basically anythings possible.

Joint ownership and operation of council-owned airports is a classic case in point.

A statewide street light-pole-hosted IOT network is another lay down misere. 

The LGAQ has spent a lot of money on smart community initiatives over the past 3.5 years but the annual savings to councils on electricity, waste, development assessment, and plant and fleet operations -  enabled through data benchmarking via the statewide data lake the majority of members participate in, as well as the associated smart apps - far outstrips our investment. 

Better still, that data and those tools are now being used by councils in every Australian state as well as in New Zealand.

The questions as to how to get as much value as you can from your share of the $150 billion physical asset pool are the same for all councils, but the answers and approaches will differ, of course, due to size and location.

Remember one golden rule: don't ever set and forget once items are added to the balance sheet.

Question, challenge, turn it upside down and inside out. Ask how could we do it better, smarter, cheaper. What extra value can we create.

Welcome to our new head of advocacy

Finally I want to wish a big LGAQ welcome to our new LGAQ Head of Advocacy, Cory Heathwood, who started his career with us in the best possible way by spending his first days in the job visiting councils along with our President Mayor Mark Jamieson, CEO-elect Alison Smith and Sarah Vogler, our External Relations Director.

As you can see, he has hit the ground running.

He will be an old hand in no time after visiting and listening to members in their own patch.