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Hastings District Councillors must all be skipping breakfast

As reported in the Hawke's Bay Today, a New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union analysis of catering costs at Hawke's Bay councils has revealed Hastings District Councillors to be guilty of ratepayer-funded gluttony. 
 
Hastings District Council spent $50,375.88 on catering for its elected members in 2017 – or about $1,000 a week.  Across all of Council, the total catering expense was a staggering $116,371.19.
 
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council also spent a significant $44,955.63 on catering across Council. At Central Hawke’s Bay District Council this figure was $34,362.36, and even the small Wairoa District Council spent $29,623.77.
 
In contrast, Napier District Council spent just $4,285.44 on catering across all of Council.
 
Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “Why is it that Hastings District Councillors need to spend more than ten times the amount on food than Napier’s entire Council? What could possibly be the explanation for this? Do Hastings’ Councillors have eyes bigger than their stomachs, are they forgetting to eat their morning Weet-bix?”
 
“A tip-off reveals a possible explanation – Instagram posts from a local caterer advertise the lavish platters prepared for the Council. It appears Councillors are eating better than the ratepayers who fund their salaries.”
 

 

 
“Ratepayers are forced to pack their own lunch to save money, while the Council’s feasts are featured on Instagram. This gluttony is a slap in the face for ratepayers who expect their money to be used on essential services. Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst ought to make a captain’s call, and scrap ratepayer-funded feasts in favour of the old-fashioned packed lunch.”
 
Catering expenses at Hawke’s Bay Councils, 2017:

  • Hastings District Council: $116,371.19 (Further enquiry revealed $50,375.88 was for elected members)
  • Hawke's Bay Regional Council: $44,955.63
  • Central Hawke's Bay District Council: $34,362.36
  • Wairoa District Council: $29,623.77
  • Napier City Council: $4,285.44

All figures were obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

Catering expenses for councils across the country will be released by the Taxpayers' Union in coming days.

Report: 102 Ways to Save Money in Local Government

102 Ways coverThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has today released 102 Ways to Save Money in Local Government – a report that lists big and small opportunities for local councils to save money and reduce the burden on ratepayers.

The 102 suggestions, many of which were provided to the Union by mayors across the country, range from the common-sense to the novel. Taken together, they serve as a challenge to unimaginative and undisciplined councils who allow wasteful spending to accumulate and then tell ratepayers to expect rate hikes.

The Taxpayers’ Union advocates instead for a culture where fiscal prudence is not a cause for celebration, but an expectation, just as it is within private organisations and households across the country.

Some highlighted suggestions:

  • Pay down council debt (#1)
  • Offer prizes to staff who suggest efficiencies – but allow anonymous entries (#2)
  • Scrap political advisors (#10)
  • Stop sending staff to conferences (#30)
  • Rent out under-utilised office space (#68)

Some more novel ideas:

  • Graze cattle and sheep on council land to save on grass cutting (#6)
  • Pay cafés to open bathroom facilities to the public, instead of building new toilets (#17)
  • Transition to LED lighting (#33)
  • Turn down the heating at council buildings (#37)
  • Ditch colourful, photography-heavy annual reports (#81)

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom, in a foreword to the report, says, “I support this Taxpayers’ Union initiative to highlight opportunities for councils, large and small, to identify savings or efficiencies in their operations to minimise costs to ratepayers and deliver value. While I do not advocate some of the more radical ideas which the authors of this document have included, no doubt to grab a few headlines, I celebrate those who are committed to sharing ideas and encouraging open and honest debate.”

Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokesperson Jo Holmes says, “Some of the initiatives included in this report run the risk of being dismissed as mere common sense. We don’t mind a dose of common sense where it saves money at the town hall - exactly what ratepayers are calling for.”

The Taxpayers’ Union would like to thank the Mayors who responded to the Union's invitation to submit ideas and examples of how their councils have saved ratepayer money.

Christchurch City Council buckles: releases $1.2m “touch wall” spending

After being faced with legal action from the Taxpayers’ Union (and potentially the Attorney General), Christchurch City Council has buckled and confirmed the amount spent on its seven-metre ‘touch wall’ – $1.245 million.

This was an eleventh-hour backdown from the Council. We literally had the affidavit signed, papers prepared, and were ten minutes away from filing in the High Court.

The fact this spending, originally requested back in January, is now exposed is a major win for transparency. It send a message to councils across the country that ratepayers expect and will demand transparency. Councils that ignore freedom of information laws will face very real legal consequences. This was to be in court in a matter of days.

The cost of this touch wall is, as we suspected all along, enormous. It says everything about the Council’s priorities that they would spend over a million dollars on a touch screen while basic infrastructure is in poor shape and rates are skyrocketing.

Like media organisations and other watchdog groups, we are heavy users of freedom of information requests, but we have never seen such stubborn secrecy over what you would expect to be a relatively minor spending item. This secrecy has now backfired – in a kind of ‘Streisand effect’, the touch wall’s cost has turned into a much bigger story. Let this be a lesson to politicians try to hide where our money is being spent.

Taxpayers' Union welcomes Ombudsman judgment against Christchurch City Council

The Ombudsman has invited the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union to bring enforcement proceedings to the High Court over Christchurch City Council’s failure to release the spending figure for the seven metre ‘touch wall’ in its new library. He has also asked the Attorney General to consider doing the same.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Over a month after the Ombudsman recommended releasing the spending figure, we’ve seen nothing from the Council. This is brazen, especially under a mayor who has been promising more transparency over the use of ratepayer money.”

“The Ombudsman has made an excellent and correct decision, first in recommending the release of the information, and now in approaching the Attorney General. We’ve never seen such a damning judgement against a public body.”

“We are currently seeking legal advice – bringing action against the Council ourselves is something we are considering, regardless of whether the Attorney General does the same.”

“Christchurch ratepayers have a significant interest in this kind of spending, especially as both the library and town hall projects face budget blowouts, and rates are being hiked by an average of six percent annually.”

“But this issue is bigger than Christchurch. For too long public agencies have flouted freedom of information law. If we need to take Christchurch City Council and Lianne Dalziel to Court to set a precedent that this sort of disregard for transparency has consequences, then it’s worth the effort.”

Taxpayers’ Union welcomes Rex Nicholls to Board of Directors

Rex NichollsThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is pleased to announce that former Wellington City Councillor Rex Nicholls has joined the organisation's board of directors.
 
Rex’s background is in engineering, project management, and property investment. His mix of civic and private achievements place him perfectly as an ambassador for taxpayers.

Rex says:

“I’ve always operated on the basis that money in my pocket will be much more efficiently spent than if I run it past a Government Department first. Spending other people’s money should carry a huge duty of care – but it seldom does.”

More information about the Taxpayers’ Union team is available here: www.taxpayers.org.nz/our_team

'Hot horse' subsidy costs to sky-rocket: Winston's Dowry grows

Winston's-Dowry-banner-v1.1.png

It was revealed last week, that the tax break for racing industry bloodstock is expected to cost significantly more than previously anticipated. The tax breaks for the racing industry have faced ridicule as the only tax cut in Budget 2018.

That's not surprising: the racing industry has historically been a strong supporter of New Zealand First. The Electoral Commission recently found that Sir Patrick Hogan was in breach of the Electoral Act when he funded a full page ad in support of the party prior to the General Election last year. 

At Budget 2018, the cost of the tax break was expected to equal $4.8 million over the next four years, however IRD officials expect the tax break will cost up to $40 million - a 733% increase in the cost of the policy. That means taxpayers will be on the line for an additional $35.2 million over the next four years, which is all added onto Winston's Dowry!

Winston's Dowry as at 2 July: $5.168 billion ($2989 per household)

The total cost so far is $5.168 billion - or $2989 for the average New Zealand household, although if officials continue to increase the expected cost of policies, this figure will grow. 

"The Dowry" to date:

  • Provincial Growth Fund: $3 billion or $1735 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: $1.144 billion or $661 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Defence: $426 million or $246 per household
  • Additional funding for learning support: $272.8 million or $157 per household
  • Additional funding for Oranga Tamariki: $269.9 million or $156 per household 
  • Adjusted 'Hot horses' tax break, the new Forestry Hub, and a rename for the Ministry of Children: $55.4 million or $32.05 per household

Winston is in!

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With Jacinda Ardern now on maternity leave, Winston Peters has finally grasped the wheel of power.

However, Mr Peters has had significant control over spending since the Government was formed late last year. Since then, Winston has negotiated for an array of projects, policies, and prizes for him and his NZ First Ministers.

This includes the Provincial Growth Fund, significant increases in spending for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Ministry of Defence, a vanity project (re)re-branding of the Ministry for Children, and a tax credit for hot horses, among other initiatives. 

Winston's Dowry as at 21 June: $5.132 billion ($2960 per household)

The total cost so far is $5.132 billion - or $2960 for the average New Zealand household, although depending on how Winston behaves from the 9th floor, that figure could grow in coming weeks. We'll be watching closely for announcements from NZ First Ministers and the acting Prime Minister so we can update Winston's Dowry

"The Dowry" to date:

  • Provincial Growth Fund: $3 billion or $1735 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: $1.144 billion or $661 per household
  • Additional funding for the Ministry of Defence: $426 million or $246 per household
  • Additional funding for learning support: $272.8 million or $157 per household
  • Additional funding for Oranga Tamariki: $269.9 million or $156 per household 
  • 'Hot horses' tax break, the new Forestry Hub, and a rename for the Ministry of Children: $20.2 million or $11.70 per household

 

New report: Public sector wage data undermines public sector union claims

Wage Gap report cover

Over the last 25 years, public sector incomes have grown much faster than the private sector, while public sector employees also enjoy a higher rate of sick leave costing taxpayers $173 million, according to Public Sector Wage Gap: The taxpayer-funded premium for working for the government, a new report we've released today.

If you work for the Government, you earn a third more on average, with taxpayers footing the bill.

This report seriously undermines the public sector unions’ claim for 9-15 percent pay hikes for their members. It blows to bits claims the last Government did not pay bureaucrats enough.

The public sector pay gap nearly doubled since the 1990s. If anything, a wage freeze, not hikes, would be fairer.

Left wing activists and unions would have the public believe that the public sector has undergone nine years of neoliberal hell. But this shows that to be a lie.

Key findings of the report:

  • The gap in weekly earnings between the public and private sectors has grown since 1990, from 18.9% of private sector earnings to 34.6% in 2017. The gap peaked in 2010 at 38.4%. The premium is even higher for hourly earnings (as public sector employees, on average, work fewer hours).
  • If the Government had retained a public sector earnings premium of 20%, taxpayers would save $2.5 billion per year, or $1,445 per household in lower taxes or reduced Government debt.
  • The public sector took an average of 8.6 and 8.4 days of sick leave in 2016 and 2017, compared to the private sector average of 4.7 days per year.
  • If the public sector reduced its rates of sick leave to private sector levels, the taxpayers would save $173 million per year, or approximately $100 per household per year in lower taxes, or reduced Government debt.

Key recommendations:

  • The Government should set a goal of returning to a 20% public sector earnings premium by placing constraints on public sector wage growth and focusing on growing productivity.
  • If private sectors stagnate or decline (such as in a recession) the Government should be willing to cut public sector wages to match.

You can also download the report here.

Peters prodded into transparency over racing industry review

Rt Hon Winston Peters has now released the terms of reference for his review of the racing industry, due to intervention of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union and the Ombudsman.

New Zealand First has a long history of promoting handouts for the racing industry, with an all-weather track and new tax breaks just the latest examples. So naturally, we were very interested when Winston Peters announced a review of the sector.

Whether this type of review leads to impartial policy advice or just proposals to prop up an industry with taxpayer money depends on the questions raised in the review’s terms of reference.

We were stunned when the Minister refused to release the terms, saying there was no document literally titled ‘terms of reference’. After we involved the Ombudsman, the Minister has now released to us the letter to the review head that outlined the scope of the review.

There seems to be nothing remarkable about the released terms of reference, which begs the question of why Mr Peters’ office was so secretive in the first place.

Mr Peters could avoid the perception of cronyism if he were more transparent about his tinkering with the racing industry.


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