The Local Government Engineers Association (LGEA) has called for the NSW Government to amend the Local Government Act to appoint a Chief Engineer at each council and to introduce engineer registration
The proposal has come as part of a series of low-cost, value-add recommendations put forward to the Local Government Acts Review Taskforce, that also included the introduction of a professional engineering registration scheme.
LGEA Director Mr Gordon Brock said the only way to overcome NSW’s asset maintenance gap and its $7.2 billion infrastructure backlog, was to give councils greater engineering capacity.
In the LGEA’s submission to the Local Government Acts Review Taskforce, “Improving engineering capacity to fix the infrastructure backlog”, the Association recognised the need for industry reform and identified a series of measures to equip councils to fix the infrastructure backlog.
Mr Brock said, “We commend the Government on their review of the Local Government Act and their move toward addressing the infrastructure backlog – these are issues that have concerned our members for many years.
Mr Brock said that the LGEA was heartened by the work of the Taskforce panel and its acknowledgement that asset maintenance and the infrastructure backlog were issues that warranted the highest priority, however he felt that there was “still work to be done”.
“The Taskforce panel has proposed to introduce a Chief Financial Officer at each council to improve financial management, however a CFO cannot scope, design, cost, or manage delivery of a bridge, or any other piece of infrastructure – for that we need a Chief Engineer”.
“We have proposed that the Government introduce a statutory position of Chief Engineer at each council and strengthen engineering capacity through the registration of engineers.
“With Chief Engineers in each council, the State Government would effectively give each entity the technical expertise it needs to start fixing this crippling infrastructure backlog.
“Chief Engineers would ensure that councils could accurately scope, cost, deliver and maintain infrastructure, and as a result avoid costly delays and protracted contractual disputes often experienced at present.
“Chief engineers would also be a valuable source of advice to Councillors in considering and assessing projects. This would result in better and more efficient spending decisions and ultimately, enhanced public safety.
“Additionally, Chief Engineers would improve the industry’s attraction and retention of engineering and technical professionals – a goal that the Taskforce panel has said deserves a high priority.
“This infrastructure backlog has arisen through an absence of infrastructure expertise. Financial management expertise, in the form of CFOs, cannot fix this problem. Councils require appropriately qualified and experienced technical professionals to undertake or oversee infrastructure work.
“We believe that it is vital that councils have the expertise and knowledge required for the efficient delivery of safe and effective infrastructure to our communities.
The LGEA has also proposed that the NSW Government adopt a Professional Engineer registration scheme, similar to the scheme currently operating in Queensland, where all engineering work undertaken on council assets is overseen by a chartered engineer.
“A Professional Engineer Registration scheme would help to protect the community who rely on local government infrastructure, reduce the risk of financial loss as a result of infrastructure failure and bring a higher degree of rigour to the asset planning work of councils.
LGEA Recommendations to the Local Government Act Taskforce
- The NSW Government should amend the Local Government Act to require each council to have a qualified Chief Engineer responsible for the principal oversight of the management of the council’s assets and infrastructure program. The Chief Engineer position should be a senior staff position and must hold a qualification in a relevant discipline of engineering, as offered by an accredited Australian university, or a qualification gained elsewhere that satisfies the requirements of “the Washington Accord” for recognition as a professional engineer.
- In accordance with the recommendations of TCorp, the smaller councils or proposed Regional Organisation of Councils could share a person as their Chief Engineer.
- The Government should introduce a requirement for all council IPR plans to be signed-off by a council-employed engineer who meets the qualification requirements outlined in point one above.
- The Government should introduce a Professional Engineer registration scheme, whereby all engineering work undertaken on council assets must be overseen by a registered engineer.
- The Government should establish a Ministerial Advisory Committee to identify and oversee the implementation of other methods through which engineers and other technical professionals are able to be attracted and retained in industry.
Mr Brock said, “We are supportive of reforms that seek to help resolve the industry’s infrastructure backlog.
“We believe that the time is now for the Government to ensure that this industry has the engineering expertise and knowledge to deliver safe and effective infrastructure to our communities.”