SPECIFIC SERVICES & PROJECTS
If you've read the information in the 'BIG PICTURE' and 'IMPROVING' tabs it will come as no surprise that we find it difficult to talk about specific and isolated services and projects! Our approach is integrated and informed by a systems view of council's entire organisation. However, we have provided an overview of specific services and 'signature projects' in what follows. Further details are available on request.
Ben has 20 years experience in design, construction, operations and maintenance of all types of civil infrastructure assets. This practical background coupled with strong skills in strategy gives him an unusual ability to 'see the forest and the trees' when it comes to infrastructure.
Common Thread Consulting has worked with councils across NSW: populations < 5,000 to 70,000+; communities experiencing significant growth and those facing gradual declines, asset portfolios $200M to $2B; extensive asset data and those just starting their journey.
Our simple framework for asset management planning can be easily tailored to suit your council. We deliver meaningful insights and establish a framework for continuous improvement, including improvement plans for your staff to pick up and run with. Our focus isn't documentation, but systems to deliver better value to the community from your assets.
Ben's interest in financial sustainability grew out of a conviction that asset management can't be done 'over in that corner'. It deserves a seat at the table when sustainability is up for discussion... given the asset-intensive nature of local government, it should be front and centre.
Over the last decade, Ben has developed an in-depth understanding of financial planning and reporting for local government. Common Thread Consulting has undertaken a number of financial sustainability reviews that have informed the development of Improvement Plans. We have undertaken major improvement projects most recently for Cabonne and Snowy Valleys Council individually, and before this the Mid Lachlan Alliance Fitness Campaign (below). This included preparing long term financial plans, including financial modelling for water and sewerage businesses. We have assisted with a number of special rate variation applications.
As with asset management, we appreciate the importance of helping the elected council to make better informed decisions, engaging the community in meaningful ways and developing ownership of the process and outcomes amongst the leaders within the organisation.
SERVICE REVIEWS & ENGAGEMENT
While reviews of infrastructure-related services are obviously a speciality given our expertise in asset management, we have undertaken detailed service reviews of a diverse array of specific council functions as well as higher-level reviews of all functions at a number of councils (see, e.g., the Mid Lachlan Alliance Fitness Program below).
Ben may be an engineer, but he has held senior leadership positions with responsibility for the full range of council functions. He understands and appreciates the value delivered by all council functions. Councils don't do things that aren't worthwhile... the key question is the relative value delivered by different services and the priorities for limited resources.
A 'signature project' was the 2018 Service Level Review for Snowy Valleys Council. We facilitated a meaningful conversation about the services Council delivers that engaged councillors, community and staff via a community survey, an online Budget Allocator tool and a Community Sounding Board (community reference group). This has informed subsequent discussions in the context of Council's financial sustainability.
CAPEX REVIEWS, BUSINESS CASES & GRANTS
Common Thread Consulting has undertaken capital expenditure reviews (as required by NSW Local Govt. Act s.23a) for a diverse array of projects including airports, tourism facilities, entertainment centres, saleyards, sports facilities and commercial property totalling over $100M.
Our integrated approach considers strategic drivers, commercial and business aspects, asset management and impacts on council's overall financial sustainability. This provides councillors with a holistic analysis, evaluating the proposal in the context of council's entire organisation.
We take a similar approach developing business cases and grant applications for specific projects, and have a solid track record of success.
COMMERCIALISATION & BUSINESS UNITS
Ben's experience in establishing and leading two of the few truly commercialised civil contracting organisations in Australian local government - Snowy Works and Services (part of the former Tumut Shire Council) and Coastal Works (part of Coffs Harbour City Council) - as well as a study tour of similar 'council controlled trading organisations' in New Zealand equipped him with a unique understanding of the risks, opportunities and challenges of commercial operations of all sorts within a local government environment.
It has also fired a passion to help get such endeavours off the ground and thrive when the political and commercial environment is suitable. Common Thread Consulting can help at any stage from initial feasibility and establishment to marketing, resourcing and strategic review.
REVIEW OF RATING STRUCTURES
Ben took a particular interest in the review of rating structures in Snowy Valleys Council associated with the harmonisation of rates across the former Tumut and Tumbarumba Shires. With technical oversight from associate John Comrie, Ben undertook an innovative analysis drawing on his work on asset management and service levels to quantify the net cost of services enjoyed by ratepayers in different land use categories and different localities. This 'benefits analysis' was supplemented by an 'ability to pay analysis' and benchmarking of other councils to provide a background for the analysis of options available to Council within requirements set out in the NSW Local Govt. Act.
We understand why councils are reluctant to review their rating structures: there are significant political risks and often no additional revenues for council overall (except in conjunction with a special rate variation). However, with the review of local government rating by IPART (including the recommendation to abolish the minimum rate) and continued growth in rural land values in many regional areas compared to residential and business, we see an opportunity for councils to have informed discussions with their communities about the options rather than continuing to accept often long-entrenched inequities. This process can begin with a simple review of current rating structures and options.
Ben has been passionate about regional collaboration amongst councils since his 5 years as Chair of IPWEA South West NSW Group (and 3 years as secretary prior to that). In 2014, he led the establishment of the 'Talking Apples and Apples about Infrastructure' project within MIDROC (the initial objective being a consistent approach to reporting on assets) and continued to support it after establishing Common Thread Consulting. The group went on to develop the 'Bridges Without Borders' business case for investment in renewal of a third of timber bridges in NSW ranked via a consistent prioritisation methodology that ignored local government boundaries. Most recently, he has worked with the Central West NSW JO Water Utilities Alliance to undertake a trial of condition assessment technologies for water mains across the region.
Ben would love to discuss how he might assist you and your counterparts to build capacity and avoid re-inventing the wheel!
Strategy and planning are important... but your council will only achieve its potential if your people work effectively together. The Connected Leadership Program is about galvanising your leaders and people around a common purpose, ensuring you have the right social processes and systems, and ensuring this is supported by the right behaviours. It includes:
a review and analysis of the current situation
one-on-one coaching with the executive and other leaders that informs Personal Behavioural Development Plans
working with the leadership team as a group to strengthen their sense of a common purpose, identify critical issues and constraints to achieving this and develop a roadmap to new ways of working that supports council's strategies and objectives.
The program has been delivered by our associate, business psychologist David Gourlay, at a number of councils in regional NSW with great feedback from those involved. David has worked extensively with local government and the private sector in the UK and Australia.
PROJECT: MID-LACHLAN ALLIANCE FITNESS CAMPAIGN
This 12 month project for Forbes, Lachlan, Parkes and Weddin Shire Councils was funded via a NSW Government Innovation Fund grant. The successful tender from Common Thread Consulting (a reverse brief for a fixed price) was for the following works:
Clarify the Big Picture (prepare Service Dashboards for each council)
Identify Opportunities for Improvements including a high-level review of all services and detailed reviews of:
Information & Communications Technology Services
General Financial Sustainability
Establish a Program and Project Methodology (to consider, approve, monitor and support improvement projects)
Undertake a Leadership Development Program including both individual and group development.
The improvement program is being embedded in each council and across the alliance via the Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework: a new Delivery Program (Service Dashboards) and Resourcing Strategy (focused on actions in the Council Improvement Plan to pursue its sustainability objectives). The aim is to ensure there is a foundation for continual improvement beyond the contract.
Ben might have a passion for strategy, but his background is in operations and he still enjoys getting his boots dirty every now and then! We can help with a variety of civil engineering projects such as preparation of tender and contract documents as well as project management.