Infrastructure decisions we make – when we don’t think we are making any!

POLICE CAR- BLUE LIGHTSToday’s post is by Mark Neasbey of the Australian Centre for Value Management

We’ve all heard the line, usually around election cycles “crime is a concern to the community, crime rates are getting worse under this government – we can do better and we’ll put more police out there…blah, blah blah”. The proposal is never costed but always described as affordable and “there’ll be no tax increases to pay for this…blah, blah, blah”.

The extra police need somewhere to work – so we need more police stations. They need vehicles to respond to incidents and do their follow-up interviews etc. So we’ll need to buy more cars for them as well. So we’ve already locked-in some infrastructure commitments just bydeciding to employ more police. Well, Well, of course, the extra police are successful in arresting more suspects – that’s what you’ve employed them to do. These additional suspects need to be brought to justice. That means more appearances before magistrates and judges. But to get there they first must have legal representation and also more prosecutors – so the Director of Public Prosecutions needs more staff and most likely also needs more offices and support facilities. So a second infrastructure impact is becoming evident. The successful arrest and presentation of suspects before the courts could mean the need to appoint more magistrates and judges to deal with the increased number of cases, which in turn could mean the need for additional court rooms and related holding cells for the suspects. So we now have a third potential commitment for additional infrastructure.

But wait – there’s more….

Now the courts are sentencing more convicted felons to prison the prisons become full and overcrowded so more prisons need to be built (adult and juvenile). So we know have a 4th level of infrastructure commitment.

None of which were identified, mentioned, scope or costed with the promise to ‘put more police on the beat’.

I could go on about the other spin-off implications for social support and related health services for the families of these offenders and suspects. I could differentiate the additional remand capacity that is needed as the courts cases gradually build up a backlog in the justice system.  We could also mention the increased length of time for resolving matters. We haven’t even touched upon the communications and IT implications either. Nor have we spoken about timeframes and lead-times for designing and building additional infrastructure capacity.

No this is not a hypothetical story. It’s a real scenario experienced by New South Wales over the past 2-3 decades. Dare I say it is likely to be the same in the other States and Territories.

Our Question today:

What other examples can you provide where decisions led inevitably to infrastructure demand but was not taken into account when the decision was made?

2 Thoughts on “Infrastructure decisions we make – when we don’t think we are making any!

  1. Patrick Whelan on August 12, 2016 at 9:11 pm said:

    Very similar in WA, Mark. The typical political response is “no money”, so no decision, with the whole cascade of non-decisions banking up over time.

    • Thanks for this observation, Patrick, it gives me the opportunity to make a few points which are important for this site and for improving infrastructure decision-making.

      On reading Mark’s story, we can shrug our shoulders and think ‘those stupid politicians!’ This victim-stance is comfortable and excuses us from any responsibility for the situation – and thus any effort to change it. Or we can realise that politicians may TAKE decisions but it is us, the decision MAKERS, the middle and senior management and their advisors, who present the options (well or badly). So when the decision taken seems to go askew, we must ask ourselves what are WE not doing as decision-makers, or simply doing badly?

      The real take-away from Mark’s story is that one of the things that we are not doing well is to pay sufficient attention to consequences – and to communicate these effectively. So let us not gloss too quickly over this.

      I am sure that everyone can think of many occasions where insufficient attention was paid to the ‘what might happen next’ question. Let us explore those examples and see what we can learn from them.

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