What's the difference between a 'cafe-style space' and a cafe?
Not a lot, but according to the government-owned monopoly Transpower, a $1.2million 'cafe-style space' is value for money unlike asking staff to visit the dozen cafes within a few hundred metres of its Wellington office building.
In 2012, the taxpayer owned company spent $1.2million refurbishing its reception and building "The Wire" a place where, according to Transpower CEO Patrick Strange, "we can engage and collaborate with each other, and with our guests."
Back in September, a Taxpayer's Union volunteer asked about the new cafe Transpower had built at 96 The Terrace, Wellington. It seems that calling it a "cafe" caused some offence. Transpower said (even bolding the text to emphasis the point):
The space on the ground level of Transpower House is not a café – it is a space for Transpower staff to meet internally and with our key stakeholders.
We were told that the combined cost of the cafe space and adjacent reception area was $1.2million.
Unfortunately, Transpower would not initially tell us how long its lease for the building had remaining. After some haggling, we learned that the current lease expires in 2014.
Is $1.2million on a cafe and reception value for money?
Entries close tomorrow for our competition for the householder who can provide evidence of the highest percentage increase in Auckland Council rates and user-charges. The prize is a lawnmower - just perfect for mowing those berms.
At the same time the Auckland Council is reducing services, a quick flick through the 50 or so entries we've have in so far, show many rates and user charge increases well over the 10% "cap".
Please scan and email your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org as any sent by post will no longer arrive in time.
Well it's taken a few weeks, but Auckland Council has finally responded to the Taxpayers' Union 'please explain' letter regarding a reported instruction by the Mayor's Chief of Staff, Phil Wilson, to refer all enquires about a secret January 2013 Mayoral trip to China to his office, and appears to be a misleading response to our enquiry about the trip under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.
To recap, after a tip-off that there was inappropriate expenditure on a mayoral trip to China in early 2013, we asked the Council for the identify of the person who we were informed was responsible for the spending. It is our practise to use official information channels and verify any information we receive via our tip-line (or otherwise). We were told that the last trip was in 2012. April 2012.
No mention was made of the early 2013 trip.
As has been widely reported, we now know that the January 2013 did indeed happen.
A few weeks ago we spoke to an official at the Auckland Council who told us that the Council had misled us and implied that she was instructed that all requests from the Taxpayers’ Union relating to the January 2013 China trip, be directed to Mr Wilson.
But instead of explaining the inconsistency, Mr Wilson has today emailed a veiled threat that our statements are "being monitored and reviewed through legal channels".
AUDIO: Politicians "don't deserve" payrise RadioLIVE - 22/11/2013
Politicians' pay rises and more on way DominionPost - 22/11/2013
Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers' Union, said MPs were getting a "Christmas bonus" at a time when the Government was borrowing millions of dollars a day to cover its spending.
He said Errington's comments about the gap to executive pay were "deeply concerning" and seemed to overlook the nature of ministerial roles.
"By pegging MPs' remuneration to the private sector, you're effectively saying they're in a job. Well, for MPs, it's not a job, you're not even a bureaucrat.
"It is public service and the Remuneration Authority seems to have forgotten that," he said.
MPs don't deserve pay rise - Taxpayers' Union Yahoo News - 22/11/2013
Community service key to MPs' happiness Waikato Times - 22/11/2013
Following our waste-watch press release (our blog post is here), Seven Sharp picked up the story (click the picture for video on demand).
We've been looking into the claims by Auckland Council politicians relating to promises of a 'living wage' for Auckland Council employees.
An Auckland Council internal report obtained by the Taxpayers’ Union raises questions about the potential for job losses and casts the $3.75m price-tag for the policy into doubt.
The Council’s report explains that the living wage is ‘not an effective, general tool for alleviating poverty’ and that ‘large proportions of minimum wage workers do not live in poor households.’
When you put aside the political rhetoric, the economic impact of the living wage policy will be disastrous for low-skilled Council workers, diversity and ratepayers according the Council’s own analysis.
If the Council’s aim is to reduce poverty, the report suggests that living wages for Council employees is not the way to do it. According to the report, workers aged 15 - 24, women and ethnic minorities are over-represented in the category of people not earning more than $18.40 per hour. Artificially inflating Council wages may see less of these groups gaining future employment with the Council as competition for these positions increase.
In addition to increased competition for Council positions, the report indicates the potential for job losses and shows that workers may see overtime slashed.
The living wage policy will not only burden Aucklanders with higher rates, it also threatens Council workers with the prospect of job losses. The true cost of the living wage policy may be much higher than the $3.75m quoted in the media. For example, the Council’s analysis only considers workers within a 10% wage differential. It has not factored in the potential for a domino effect of wage increases emanating from the introduction of the living wage.
Len Brown's Hong Kong trip confirmed New Zealand Herald - 12/11/2013
The Taxpayers' Union was also upset about the release of details about Mr Brown's trip to Hong Kong.
Union executive director Jordan Williams said it appeared from LGOIMA requests to the council on the matter that council officers "deliberately misled'' about the existence of the trip to avoid scrutiny.
"In addition, Auckland Council staff have apparently been instructed not to speak about the particular trip and to refer all inquiries to the mayor's office,'' he said.
ONE News (click the picture for video on demand)
Calls for MPs to declare property 'perk' One News - 11/11/2013
MPs' property loophole 'stings taxpayers' New Zealand Herald - 11/11/2013
The newly formed Taxpayers' Union, set up to "give Kiwi taxpayers a strong voice in the corridors of power", said it was shocked that the MPs were told to remove the relevant properties from their respective declaration of pecuniary interests.
Executive director Jordan Williams said the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests, which was Dame Margaret Bazley at the time, should ensure the public is fully informed.
"We are shocked that she has advised Ministers to withhold information, contrary to the purpose of the register.
"Today's revelations show that the MPs' Register of Pecuniary Interests is unfit for purpose and needs to be amended. These entitlements are stinging taxpayers in the pocket. There is no excuse for not ensuring that there is full transparency."
The Taxpayers’ Union has today welcomed the New Zealand Herald’s investigation revealing six MPs claiming $78,000 per year in taxpayer-funded subsidies for their investment properties.
The Taxpayers' Union believes that taxpayers are entitled to know what personal benefits and remuneration MPs receive.
The Herald reports that Simon Bridges was ‘given clear advice’ from Dame Margaret Bazley to take out the relevant properties from his declaration of pecuniary interests. We think that Dame Margaret should be doing everything she can to ensure the public is fully informed. We are shocked that she has advised Ministers to withhold information, contrary to the purpose of the register.
Today’s revelations show that the MPs’ Register of Pecuniary Interests is unfit for purpose and needs to be amended. These entitlements are stinging taxpayers in the pocket. There is no excuse for not ensuring that there is full transparency so that Kiwis can judge for themselves whether MPs entitlements are fair.