Intra regional trade and the effectiveness of 147 active zones (economic, industrial and free) in the Middle East will be under consideration by Lytton Advisory. The firm has been given a mandate to develop advice for the Gulf Cooperative Council Secretariat on the next phase of closer economic cooperation between member states. This will involve a baseline review of existing economic zones, careful analysis of customs arrangements between Gulf states, an examination of World Trade Organisation implications and economic modelling of preferred solutions. Lytton Advisory is looking forward to working with colleagues from Maxwell Stamp in the Middle East, building on engagements in the region over the past three years.
State Infrastructure Plan plays to division between SEQ and Regional Queensland.
The recently released State Infrastructure Plan (SIP) provides a much needed framework for the planning and prioritising of infrastructure delivery in Queensland and should be widely supported.
However, it also reinforces subconsciously the division that exists between SEQ and Regional Queensland when it comes to limited infrastructure dollars being spread across a large and high needs state.
The SIP outlines a $49.5 billion infrastructure program over the next four years from the Queensland Government ($12.9 billion in 2019-20) that claims to be supporting an estimated 40,500 jobs. Based on these metrics alone it is delivering economic development at a time when overall economic growth in Queensland is below trend.
Since the original SIP was released in 2016, Queensland has experienced significant changes including our population growing to more than five million, changing regional economies, and advanced technologies altering both infrastructure and service delivery.
As a result the 2019 SIP details the infrastructure investment strategy and delivery program for the next four years, in order to provide the private sector and other levels of government with clear direction of what is in the pipeline.
The Queensland Government’s SIP mantra is ensuring the right infrastructure is delivered in the right place and at the right time to meet the demands of a growing state. This is a commendable goal of any government and one that directly aligns with community and industry expectation.
If the document has one regrettable feature it is the cementing of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude when it comes to infrastructure rollout across Queensland. For example the SIP reads “Importantly, about 60 per cent of the capital program and 25,500 of the jobs supported are outside the Greater Brisbane area.”
Much of the narrative of a fair split between the two parts of the State is about a political necessity following the Federal Election result whereby Queensland Labor were wiped out north and west of Brisbane.
As an illustration of this point, the 2019 SIP is 207 pages long verses 159 pages back in 2018 and these extra 48 pages are directly up front and relate purposefully to what the Queensland Government is doing in infrastructure delivery in regional Queensland.
It is not wrong to support regional Queensland but constructing a zoning of spend is counter to the commendable objectives of SIP in supporting economic development, increased productivity and the creation of communities in which people want to live across all of Queensland.
The reality is, what benefits SEQ undoubtedly benefits Regional Queensland and vice-versa when it comes to infrastructure.
Glowing examples of this point are the Gateway North Upgrade and Toowoomba Second Range Crossing whereby freight is passaged through these assets that benefits Regional Queensland. On the other side of the coin is investment in rail and ports in regional Queensland is enabling royalties for frontline service delivery in SEQ. The right narrative is a symbiotic relationship between the South East Corner and all of Regional Queensland.
Putting aside the politics, what the SIP really does is highlight how incredibly difficult infrastructure delivery and prioritisation is in Queensland. Our State has the unfaltering complexity of higher economic and population growth in SEQ meaning we are continually behind the infrastructure roll out curve and yet we have the geographical size, decentralised population and low population densities of regional Queensland.
All of which mean the road, rail, electricity transmission and electricity distribution kilometres are higher than other states and we require more airports and seaports. Quite simply infrastructure delivery in Queensland is complex and difficult – with differing priorities benefiting differing areas at differing times.
In summary, the SIP represents a very good iteration or constant continuing roll out of enabling projects for Queensland. Looking past the politics of its presentation it is investing in critical infrastructure and is in fact investing in a positive future for the Sunshine State.
The schools and TAFE are delivering the skills our economy requires. The bridges, roads, ports and rail are enabling our exports to get to market and commerce to flow. The electricity and water assets are providing the vital inputs for our economy.
The overall spend as impressive as it sounds is still low by historical percentage of GSP standards but the SIP has been well received from many communities and industry sectors and rightly so.
The plan can be found here:
Today marks the sixth anniversary of Lytton Advisory as an independent economic consulting practice. Over that time, we have worked on a wide range of economic issues. This has taken us to places as diverse as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
We have never lost our enthusiasm for helping clients make smarter capital investment decisions. Neither have we wavered in our passion for proper planning, prioritisation and funding of infrastructure. In more recent years, our work has been around leading project teams of committed, experienced economists and professionals to bring high conviction analyses to our clients. Good cost benefit analysis is at the heart of what we do.
In the first half 2019 founder, Craig Lawrence took, in effect, a sabbatical from the practice to lead the establishment of the Economic and Social Infrastructure Program in PNG. This $130 million 4+4 year Cardno-delivered, Australian Government funded program seeks to improve the quality of planning, prioritisation and funding of infrastructure to achieve economic outcomes and social development goals for Papua New Guineans.
Whether it is: developing an investment manual to incorporate climate change adaptation in infrastructure development decisions in the Solomons; a full cost pricing algorithm for food and drug regulatory services in Saudi Arabia; or generating savings from waste transfer station closures that fund a ten-year capital works program – Lytton Advisory is up for the challenge. At every stage, it is about driving value for the clients and communities affected by infrastructure.
We are excited about the future for infrastructure, its contribution to sustainable economic and social development, and how emerging economic incentives, new social paradigms and innovative technologies are shaking up these services.
I chatted recently with David Baxter, an infrastructure specialist with significant experience in public-private partnerships. He shared some of his insights with me.
He gave me some meaningful comments regarding challenges facing governments in providing public infrastructure and how commercial interest can be created, risks shared and benefits for communities achieved.
So how would you characterise recent PPP activity in the Pacific?
Much of the activity seems to be focused on small island nations or be tied into China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Although there is great merit in building up these island nation trade capabilities through the improvement of port and airport facilities, the following questions need to be asked:
- Are these facilities being constructed in the interest of the host nations or are they being built for geopolitical leverage?
- Can these small island nations and even bigger nations afford these projects?
- Are adequate feasibility studies being done on the financial and commercial viability of the projects?
- Are full and competitive procurements being pursued?
- Is the long-term sustainability and resilience of PPP projects being considered?
Many countries have PPP policies in place and a PPP unit located in their Treasury or Finance departments. What are some of the biggest mistakes you have seen in implementing PPP policy?
The following are the most common that I see:
- In many instances, the PPP Units are the initiators of PPP projects when they are imposed upon unwilling line ministries which have not always been consulted on the viability or desirability of projects.
- Often the laws and best practices that are introduced, get ahead of institutional ability to implement the laws accordingly and so delays occur as everyone tries to meet requirements imposed by regulators.
- In some instances, the PPP Units try to be autonomous of the Treasury or the Finance Ministry (for political reasons) and this then leads to conflict between the institutions that is not healthy in the long run.
- Often the PPP Units do not have well define mandates and this leads to confusion on whether they should provide technical support to government institutions or whether they should be the initiator of PPPs. It is important that they realize that their activates should subject to national procurement laws and they are not a law unto themselves.
What characteristics do you think differentiate infrastructure PPPs from other types of PPPs?
Primarily the greater level of due diligence that needs to be completed on private sector partners due to the long-term commitments that are required and their ability to manage risk for 30 + years. Most typical contracts rely on the design-build element. PPPs require financing and O&M on top of this which requires that the public sector must monitor the performance of its long-term partner and the performance-based parameters.
What are the most significant conditions necessary to ensure an infrastructure PPPs is successful?
Appropriate allocation of risk during the feasibility, procurement, and contract award stages and monitoring and immediate mitigation of risk when it occurs.
PPPs are often seen as a panacea for difficult national budget circumstances. What are the risks around developing PPPs with this as the prime consideration?
In many instances, PPPs should not be implemented because they do not pass the litmus tests required such as Value for Money, commercial and financial feasibility, etc. They cannot be seen as an automatic panacea, it needs to be proven that proposed projects are viable and feasible as well as sustainable to be a panacea.
What governance arrangements are more effective for infrastructure PPPs?
Governments need to be fully engaged in the management of PPP contracts. They cannot step away and only engage the private sector partner when the close-out phase is reached. Many government employees do not understand the level of commitment required from their side and the need to have a technical understanding of PPPs to ensure that they are implemented correctly.
Is a rigorous public sector comparator really that important for an infrastructure PPP?
Most certainly in countries that are still developing or which are launching their first PPP projects. As PPP national markets mature, the private sector can become a more competent partner and this leads to a more trusting and professional collaboration.
PPPs often address a particular infrastructure service or need. How effective are they in addressing asset maintenance and preservation of benefit streams from existing infrastructure?
Brownfield PPP projects can be a minefield due to many unknowns. However, experience gleaned from existing projects and infrastructure can be beneficial – so it depends. However, I believe that every PPP project is unique and thus a certain amount of innovation is necessary to improve asset preservation and to do it better than it was done in the past. The goal should always be simple – do it better each time.
PPPs are inherently commercial in nature, as risk along with return is transferred to the private sector. How can social benefits and returns be properly incorporated in the development of PPPs?
I believe that this has to do with a mature and well-defined understanding of Value for Money: adherence to people first PPPs is an option as well as incorporating the SDGs into project goals and objectives. This can help project proponents determine the non-commercial elements of risk transfer in socially beneficial projects and the possible subsidies that might need to be introduced to offset non-commercial vitality pertaining to certain risks.
If every PPP had to contain one mandated element, what would that be?
By answering the following questions –
- Why are we doing this as a PPPs?
- Are we confident that this should be a PPP?
Good answers require completion of due diligence, gaining political support, full stakeholder engagement and full disclosure of all information to all private sector parties equally, so that they all understand the merits of the project.
If these answers cannot be motivated and supported fully – do not do it as a PPP.
David, thanks so much for making the time available to talk with us and share these insights.
Very pleased to see PNG and Australia have signed an Agency Support Arrangement for the PNG Department of Transport this month. I led an earlier Agency Capacity Diagnostic of the Department for the PNG Transport Sector Support Program.
“These diagnostics are undertaken by independent consultants and provide the agency management with objective assessments of capacity, including through the identification of existing strengths and skills gaps. The diagnostics also provide recommendations for addressing agency needs. TSSP then works closely with the Australian High Commission and agency heads to develop programs of structured capacity support to improve performance and address identified priority capacity gaps. This is formalised through Agency Support Arrangements (ASAs) which detail the multi-year frameworks for funded activities to bridge some of the gaps highlighted by the diagnostics.” (Source: TSSP website)
A great outcome which also included a lot of hard work from senior officers in the Department, the Transport Sector Support Program and at the Australian High Commission.
A great collaboration with the Department of Transport and Main Roads and Aurecon.
Lytton Advisory prepared cost benefit analysis modelling of this active transport infrastructure program for TMR, drawing on great research and analysis undertaken by the project team.
Queenslanders will continue to benefit from TMR’s engagement in developing further active transport infrastructure.
Many thanks to all who contributed to this.
Economics is a field where there is a wide range of specialties, and economists are often called on to look at specific issues. Don’t get distracted by all the other possibilities to the extent that you forget to do the one thing that you must do. But don’t become so focused on the one thing that you don’t do as much as you can.