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Waste Watch: DoC sending staff to australia to burn taxpayer cash

Documents we've obtained show that the Department of Conservation has spent over $100,000 to send staff overseas to learn a skill not applicable in New Zealand. 47 staff have traveled to Australia to learn how to conduct controlled burn-offs, despite the practice not being used by DoC.

Included in the document is an email from a DoC official regarding the our enquires which suggests a an ‘excuse’ the Department could use for why staff were going on the trips.

Also released is feedback from staff that went the trips, including the admission by one that the group didn’t “really do much fire stuff”, despite that being the apparent purpose of the trip.

We think these trips were just an excuse for a junket, not training that furthers New Zealand’s conservation. They might as well have learned the didgeridoo. We're calling on the the Minister for Conservation should put an end to this ‘controlled-burning' of taxpayers’ hard earned money.

DoC response to OIA by New Zealand Taxpayers' Union 16 May 2014

DoC response to OIA by New Zealand Taxpayers' Union 18 June 2014

 

Auckland public transport campaign hypocrisy

$356,000 for train campaign The New Zealand Herald - 28/06/2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public transport bosses in Auckland spent $356,000 to improve their public image - even as they lined up a special shuttle so staff don't have to travel on buses and trains.

The marketing campaign came with the introduction of the new electric trains and was also intended to encourage people to "give the trains a go".

It was revealed this week Auckland Transport has set up a regular private shuttle service to move staff between its Henderson headquarters and its central Auckland waterfront office.

The shuttle was intended as a time-saving measure for staff, but attracted criticism from public transport advocates because it leaves from and arrives at the same places used by the slower public transport options.

The $356,000 spending on the April campaign came as the shuttle service was being prepared for launch. The documents, released to the Taxpayers' Union, show the campaign was intended to "increase positive perceptions towards Auckland Transport and our breakthrough projects".

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Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams criticised the spending.

"Instead of throwing money at advertising, Auckland Transport would have a better reputation if it stopped running the private shuttle between offices and started following its own advice to use public transport."

Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton told Radio New Zealand criticism was "superficial".

Click here to read the full story on nzherald.

'Do as I say, not as I do' attitude from Auckland Transport

News that Auckland Transport forked out $122,000 of ratepayers’ money for a six month trial of an employee shuttle service has gone down in Auckland like a lead balloon.

Auckland Council has been left scrambling in an attempt to save face.

We are concerned by the prevalence of the cavalier attitude towards ratepayers’ money that is seemingly embedded in Auckland Council and some of its associated organisations.

A concerned supporter of the Taxpayers’ Union has written in to us with a list of questions that need to be raised about this latest Auckland Transport gaffe. We’ve condensed them down to the following:

  1. How many staff need to travel from the Henderson Auckland Transport office into the city office for meetings?
  2. How often are these commutes made?
  3. Have alternative options, such as using remote collaboration tools or programmes such as Skype been investigated?
  4. What efforts have been made to ensure greater efficiencies through the scheduling of all or most of these meetings on a single day?
  5. Have any feasibility studies been undertaken to ascertain whether or not it would be more efficient to relocate affected staff members from theHenderson office to the city office?

101 ways for councils to cut rates

The Taxpayers’ Union has today published a new report by Jono Brown that suggest ways local councils can save money and reduce the rates burden on New Zealanders. Rate Saver Report: 101 Ways to Save Money in Local Government is a guide for local authorities on how they can cut waste, save money, reduce bureaucracy and ultimately lower rates. The report adopts many suggestions made by the country’s mayors, and is based on similar reports published in the United Kingdom.

Click here to read the full 101 ways

Too often we hear unimaginative councillors insisting that they have no choice but to increase the rates burden. Before they even consider increasing rates they should consider all of the suggestions in this report.  In future, any council claiming that raising rates is the only option had better be able to prove that they have implemented or at least considered implementing every single idea we are putting before them today. If not, they won’t be able to look their residents in the eye and insist that they have exhausted the possibilities for saving money.

Ray Wallace, Mayor of Lower Hutt, says in a foreword to the report:

"I urge local government people to take these suggestions as a challenge. If you do not like them, come up with some better ones."

Tim Shadbolt, Mayor of Invercargill City, says in a foreword to the report:

"Having been a mayor for 28 years and finally achieving a rate increase of less than 1%, I’ve learnt to face many challenges and this publication is certainly challenging. Some of the ideas are obviously worthy of discussion and others are clearly designed to provoke discussion."

Highlights of how councils can save money:

  • Pay back council debt (#1)
  • Incentivise innovation (#2)
  • Stop providing free lunch and booze for councillors (#3)
  • Don’t fund or join chambers of commerce (#4)
  • Publish all accounts payable transactions (#5)

Other notable suggestions include:

  • Scrap political advisors (#10)
  • Get rid of professional sports subsidies disguised as ‘economic development’ (#17)
  • Cancel annual subscription to Local Government New Zealand (#24)
  • Stop producing glossy brochures (#33)
  • Lease art the council can’t sell (#99)

The Taxpayers’ Union would like to thank the many Mayors across the country who responded to the Union's invitation to submit ideas and examples of their council saving ratepayers’ money.

When phones go down, Dyson knows who to call

A fault caused telephones in Parliament to be temporarily blocked from making long-distance calls yesterday, prompting long-serving Labour MP Ruth Dyson to suggest Right-leaning lobby group the Taxpayers’ Union might have been behind the problem.

‘‘No toll calling available from Parliament,’’ Dyson tweeted.

‘‘Saw ‘taxpayers’ ‘union’ in the building earlier. Money-saving move? Lights next?’’ Dyson tweeted. Click here to read more.

Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty: Live streaming

While in the UK seeing family, I'll be pausing my vacation to fly the Taxpayers’ Union flag at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty. The conference will be hosted for the Centre for Policy Studies, a UK-based independent think tank advocating for greater economic liberalism. The event will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Centre for Policy Studies.

The conference will host speakers from around the globe, including current and former Prime Ministers, academics, MPs, MEPs and political influencers. A full list of speakers can be found here.

The Centre for Policy Studies will be live-streaming the conference, which will begin at 10pm New Zealand time from two locations at the event: the Great Hall and the breakout groups. (I'll also be tweeting interesting tidbits via @BGCraven).

I’m hoping to learn a great deal about the challenges facing the representatives of each nation and how these compare and contrast to New Zealand’s  domestic policies.

Greater Wellington loses $43million on one building

The Taxpayers’ Union is slamming the property management skill at Greater Wellington Regional Council which has lost 95% of the purchase price of the building it used to occupy.

Information released to the Taxpayers’ Union under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show that ‘Pringle House’ in Wakefield Street, also known as the 'Regional Council Centre', was purchased in 1987 for $22 million. In 2014 dollars, that is equivalent to $45.2 million. According to a recent independent valuation, the property is worth only $2.3 million. The documents reveal that ratepayers have taken a loss of more than 95% of the purchase price.

This shows why councils should be extra careful about managing property. At the time when Greater Wellington is taking a 95% loss on its own building, the port it owns is pushing ahead with the Harbour Quay property development, which Wellington ratepayers underwrite.

Last month the Taxpayers’ Union revealed that Greater Wellington had not bothered to enquire into the extent of damage and potential loss resulting from the Cook Strait Earthquakes (click here for DominionPost coverage).

These new revelations do not give us confidence that Greater Wellington are good stewards of ratepayer money. The Council should leave the funding of property development to the private sector and put a stop to risking public money.

Notes:

  • Pringle House, the former offices of Greater Wellington Regional Council, were purchased for $45.2 million (inflation adjusted) in 1987.
  • The building is now worth $2.3 million and is earthquake prone.
  • Consultants have estimated that it will cost $32 million to bring the building up to acceptable standards.
  • The costs to physically relocate the Council offices after the Cook Strait quakes last year were nearly $90,000 (not including staff time).
  • Despite sitting empty, the building is costing ratepayers $17,000 per month.
  • The Council has considerable property risks as debt guarantor of Centre Port’s ‘Harbour Quay’ property developments. 

 Letter from GWRC to NZTU 23 May 2014

 Attachment 1 to OIA 2014 065 - Telfer Young Market Valuation

Attachment 2 to OIA 2014 065 - Spencer Holmes Final Report on the RCC Building

Attachment 3 to OIA 2014 065 - Dunning Thornton Seismic Status Peer Review Report

 

Leaked report shows efforts LGNZ making to protect poor performing councils

The Taxpayers’ Union has been provided a copy of a leaked report Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) commissioned. The report was prepared in response to work by the Taxpayers’ Union to improve transparency in local government. Earlier today Ratepayers’ Report – interactive local government league tables  launched at ratepayersreport.co.nz.

We've also been leaked confidential briefing papers for council CEOs. These appear to have been prepared by LGNZ's spin doctors as an aide for councils to avoid any criticism resulting from questions relating to Ratepayers' Report and other efforts by the Taxpayers' Union.

We approached LGNZ earlier in the year and sought its help to ensure New Zealanders got a fair picture of how their local council is doing. Instead, LGNZ went into defence mode and hired an accountancy firm to discredit the expert analyst we were using. They were not interested in ensuring ratepayers got an accurate picture, rather creating reasons why we shouldn’t be providing the public with the information.

Despite promising that the report would be made available to the Taxpayers’ Union, we’ve only seen it today because it was leaked to us. The report suggests that LGNZ is more interested in toeing the party line, rather than identifying the councils which are under-performing.

The report, by Grant Thornton, appears to have little basis for what they deem as ‘acceptable’ for the financial measures they apply to councils. They've not provided a league table, or a scoring system and even the data points on the graphs do not reference the councils they relate to.

It appears they’ve put in the data then picked the spot that shows that everyone is doing well.

The report makes soft criticisms of Kaipara District and Waitomo District Councils - but then defends them. It makes assertions that all under-performing councils are dealing with their issues. To us it demonstrates that LGNZ is a lobby group to protect local councils rather than a champion of best practise.

Grant Thornton Report_Local Government a Financial Snapshot

Ratepayers' Report

The Taxpayers’ Union, in collaboration with Fairfax Media, this morning launched "Ratepayers’ Report” hosted by Stuff.co.nz. 

 

Ratepayers’ Report builds on the work of local government expert and financial analyst, Larry Mitchell and his work in previous years comparing New Zealand’s 67 territorial authorities. The data was pulled together by the Taxpayers' Union and supplied to Fairfax Media. Fairfax has had the data checked independently and supplied it to councils for viewing before its publication.

For the first time, New Zealanders now have an interactive online tool to compare their local council to those of the rest of the country. Go to Ratepayersreport.co.nz to compare your local council including average rates, debt per ratepayer and even CEO salaries.

Ratepayers’ Report compares, for the first time, average residential rates.  The figure has been calculated using a methodology developed within the local government sector to compare average residential rates.  Only Kaipara District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers’ Union with the average residential rates information.

Some highlights: 

  • New Zealand’s highest average residential rates are in the Western Bay of Plenty District, $3,274
  • The Mackenzie District has the lowest average residential rates, nearly two thirds less at $1,104
  • The average council liabilities are $4,386 per ratepayer
  • Auckland Council’s liabilities are now $15,858 per ratepayer (and increasing!)
  • Dunedin is not far behind. For every Dunedin ratepayer, the Council owes $15,093

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