Matthijs, Emily and Els make Flemish sewerage expenditure transparent
How much do Flemish municipalities spend on sewerage? Trying to answer this question, the Vlaamse MilieuMaatschappij (VMM – the Flanders Environment Agency) contacted our ‘Public’ Blue Chip Boutique. The story of TriFinance and VMM goes back a long way and has given consultants plenty of opportunities to develop themselves.
It all began in 2015, when the VMM decided it wanted to gain better insight into the sewerage investments made by cities and municipalities, as local authorities recorded this expenditure item in highly diverse ways. Seeking the help of the private sector, VMM eventually turned to TriFinance. It was its ‘Public’ Blue Chip Boutique that took care of the job, resulting in a uniform registration and reporting of sewerage investments. The changes will become operational in 2020, when the next Policy and Management Cycle starts.
“The project concerns about one hundred municipalities.”
Since January, the story has taken a new turn as VMM now also wants to find out more about the local authorities’ sewerage expenditure that is not investment-related. VMM had not forgotten how well TriFinance performed in 2015 and again called on us to look into this question. “The current project concerns about one hundred municipalities – i.e. one out of three – which have not outsourced their sewerage policy to an intermunicipal utility company”, explains project consultant Matthijs Boussery, who studied public administration and management at UGent. Matthijs has been working with TriFinance for three years now. He started out with ‘Public’ and has been active in ‘MI&S’ for the past half year. He is very much interested in both sectors and his growth path – from operational support to advisory projects – makes him highly suitable for handling VMM’s request. “In our ‘Public’ BCB, we insist on collaborating beyond the borders of the BCBs”, emphasises expert manager Els Hellraeth, who obtained a Master in Applied Economics at UAntwerpen.
“We conducted on-the-spot interviews with the financial managers and accountants.”
Matthijs says that, in order to explore the existing situation, they carried out a random check with twelve municipalities. ”They were selected on the basis of existing contacts, and we always conducted on-the-spot interviews with the financial managers and accountants.” Els adds that a survey was distilled from this sample, a draft version of which was subsequently submitted to five municipalities. “The final version of the questionnaire was sent to all the municipalities involved, and half of them replied within a week and a half. Yet another proof that this issue is high on their agenda...”
The answer given by the municipalities was clear: abolish the current reporting system. Matthijs and Els explain: “We formulated guidelines on how to calculate direct costs and made the recommendation that indirect expenses should be recorded as a percentage of these direct costs. Our analysis had shown that this percentage is comparable for the large majority of respondents.” Els adds that the municipalities that stand out, about fifteen in total, will be contacted again. “We are going to resurvey all the extremes, i.e. 0 per cent or more than 2 per cent.”
Emily: from operational to process-based work
Much of the supporting work for this project was developed by Emily De Ryck, who also studied public administration and management at UGent and has been working for TriFinance for two years. “Until the VMM project, I mostly did operational work. During an alignment meeting, I told Els that I would love to work on a project basis. What I’m currently doing with VMM is at any rate an excellent starting point”, Emily affirms. Els adds: “The great thing about all this is the ‘stepwise’ professional growth that has developed in a very informal and natural way. By assisting Emily in her development, Matthijs also perfects himself.” Matthijs and Emily in their turn emphasise that Els, who is ultimately in charge of the project and whose financial expertise they praise, actively advises and assists them.
Helping consultants to grow in their careers... that is TriFinance’s raison d’être. What has the current project taught Emily and Matthijs so far? Matthijs says that his analytical thinking has greatly improved and that he gets less and less stressed out during presentations. Emily emphasises that it is very nice to be able to learn from colleagues. She is happy that she is making progress in taking minutes of meetings and in structuring reports, while she is also getting constantly better at working with PowerPoint presentations and Office applications.