Draft Infrastructure Strategy and Future Thinking at the City of Cape Town

Craig Kesson is Executive Director for Corporate Services at the City of Cape Town. We explore the thinking behind the City’s Infrastructure Strategy, its scope and key elements, impacts of and lessons from the pandemic, a uniformed standard to Sector Plans, enabling innovation in alternative service delivery, reaching historically under-serviced areas, and more.

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Discussion highlights

This episode is presented in partnership with the City of Cape Town

The City discussed its proposal for an Infrastructure Strategy with business partners at the Cape Chamber of Commerce at an engagement led by the Mayor. This draft strategy is undergoing consultations inside the city government and has been discussed at the portfolio committee.
This conversation is to explain more about the thinking behind the draft infrastructure strategy.

Impacts of the pandemic on infrastructure delivery at the City of Cape Town

  • The direct material impact from hard lockdown.
  • Maintenance, servicing, routine tasks were paused.
  • Even short delays have implications for backlogs and resource needs.
  • Indirect effects: Compound effects on service delivery, Craig explains.

Scope and key elements of the City’s Infrastructure Strategy

  • Road to recovery: Craig explains the economic case for infrastructure investment and the importance of planning ahead.
  • Make sure to leverage investment capability as a public institution and as much internal transparency of the dependencies of projects to fully leverage investment.
  • Focussed attention on a set portfolio of infrastructure projects that understands and maps out dependencies and also creates a reliable pipeline for the next decade at least. Craig explains the details and why this is important.

How the strategy is fundamentally different from previous capital programmes

  • Craig explains Sector Plans and how the City has focussed over the past 18-24 months on the technical projections and details to get Sector Plans right i.e. to get a uniform standard.
  • The uniformed standard dives into: What does future demand look like, what does the shift in consumer and resident behaviour look like and how do we strategically respond to that. Critically what is the portfolio of projects that needs to be in place to enable the strategic response?
  • Strategic documents are in a different class now, by design. Craig explains.

How the strategy looks to enable innovation in alternative service delivery

  • Craig explains the purpose of portfolio management, the City’s thinking and examples of how they are currently exploring alternative service delivery within the energy sector.

Reaching low income and declining neighbourhoods

  • Craig explains the strategy’s thinking to look at where the backlogs are and to map it out for decision-makers using live data.
  • Empowered city officials and teams to go into historically under-serviced areas to obtain service request data to give an equitable picture on the demand side for service requests.

How the strategy ensures the capacity to spend capital budget and deliver what is planned

  • Craig explains the progress that has been made over the years through system enhancements.
  • Still on a journey to improving capital spend.
  • Where are the real project dependancies for big spending programmes.
  • Where are the City’s focus and attention most required to unlock certain impediments to delivery, to ensure maximum coordination between capital departments, or throw their weight in terms of procurement assessment, contract management resources behind elements of a portfolio that can deliver the most?
  • Require skillsets in place and the power of data to bring it all together.
  • Craig expands on additional complications and how the strategy can address them.

Major difficulties to the implementation of this strategy

  • Long lead times.
  • Maintaining momentum can be difficult.
  • Making budgeting choices can be difficult.
  • Making the right strategic choices, Craig exp

Main lessons from the pandemic

  • The city is capable of tremendous action on a transversal programmatic level when circumstances require it. Craig expands on this using examples.

This draft strategy is undergoing consultations inside the city government and has been discussed at the portfolio committee, we look forward to further updates.

About Craig Kesson

‘As Executive Director of Corporate Services my portfolio is broad. 11 directors report to me with a complement of 2,000 staff and a total operating budget of US$150 million. I am also the Chief Data Officer and Chief Resilience Officer for the organization. In the latter role, I led the strategic responses to the Cape Town water crisis in 2017 and COVID-19 in 2020. Recently, this includes the economic recovery programme for the City. Solving difficult and complex problems that have great impact and making sure solutions are data-driven is where I am at my best from identifying the specifics of the problem to crafting practical solutions and managing interdisciplinary teams to execute. As a result, I have been exposed to large scale, large budget programmes with many moving parts.

I have consistently achieved breakthrough results in all areas of my responsibility: policy and strategy, IT for the whole organization, data science and analytics, project / programme / portfolio management, knowledge management, HR and high-level OD, communications and customer relations.


Revising the outdated and unsuccessful Broadband infrastructure programme that has been presented to Council in June 2020. It proposes a five-year infrastructure build of US$10 million pa capital and US$5 million pa operating expenses.

Full upgrade of core applications IT following thorough business process and technical analysis carried out over a year and internationally benchmarked. The upgrade is valued at around US$1 billion and will rollout over 10 years. It includes a procurement strategy compliant with competition law and public procurement policy.

COVID-19 response that resulted in lowering the infection rate ahead of the curve and long term benefits of a supplementary healthcare system for the City and a new operating model for City management that incorporates new logistics platforms, decision support and financial modelling tools. I am now leading the Recovery Programme, including reviving the local economy through a package of interventions including infrastructure investment and legislative changes to ease doing business in the City.

Water Crisis: I cut my teeth on dealing with this abnormal crisis in 2017 heading the City’s cross-divisional response to the once in a 500-year drought that afflicted Cape Town. Through data-led complex problem solving, gathering the right expertise around me and careful practical implementation we brought water consumption down to unheard-of levels for a city of our size and developed a water augmentation scheme that is in the rollout.’

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