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Despite the Council cutting services and library hours, the council seemingly has money for make-up and fashion advice for back-office accounting staff.
Material we’ve just released us show that the Council accountancy team hired image consultants Fox & Mae to run “Brand Me” sessions for the back office team to learn about grooming at work, what to wear and smart-casual Fridays.
Most employers expect their employees to be tidy and well presented, even if they are a back-office worker. Image consultants are normally employed by celebrities, the very wealthy, and front-facing staff who are acting in a front-facing role.
It is sadly ironic that the accountancy team, the very people whose job it is to keep Council spending under control, have been wasting money on what looks to be ratepayer-funded fashion and make-up advice.
In the last year there has been a lot of discussion regarding efforts by Auckland Council to fund its yawning funding gap, a gap that mostly relates to its transportation (roading) budgets. New tolls for existing motorways are a possibility, as well as distorying the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust so that Auckland Council (instead of the intendand benificiares) get the annual payout.
Feedback included one commentator who “shouted” (in bold caps) … “Hang On! lets not try to fill any funding gap before we first address Auckland Council’s wasteful and unaffordable expenditures which are so clearly out of control!” … the Elephant!
Fair point … so here, to start this particular ball rolling, are some simple financial facts concerned with Auckland’s expenditures.
The 2012- 2022 long term plan forecast Council group expenditures to increase by 24% over the next five years, although this year’s 2014 actual result is slightly less (by 3%) than that forecast.
Recent publicity surrounds the funding deficit issues referred to already, that is, the search for increased income and other sources to meet budgeted funding totals. But there is something important missing from this picture. Nowhere in the debate surrounding the financial management of Auckland Council is there to be found any call for or actions to address the funding shortfall by making budget savings derived from expenditure reductions.
How different this is from individual budget holders of our family’s expenditures or of firms in the private sector. Any private sector firm faced with a similar funding dilemma to that of the Council would not hesitate in wielding the axe to its expenditures. They would act promptly to lower their overheads, then most likely to reduce payroll, while all the while seeking more efficient and economical ways to produce their goods and services. So why is our Council somehow exempt from employing these sensible strategies?
It appears that the Council’s coercive powers give them an assured (taxation) basis for their revenues and that effectively removes any incentive or compulsion for their making cost savings.
This is the reason Councils usually just run “cost plus” budgets year after year. A small number, usually those reacting to pressures of their ratepayers, from time to time trim their costs. Currently though New Zealand Councils by and large show little interest in making cost savings as tables of recent year’s inexorable rates increases attest.
An analysis of alternative solutions, designed to modify Auckland Council budget strategies fall into two broad areas.
The first is to look at the Auckland Council culture and practices that have allowed this situation to develop.
The second addresses a range of specific tactics that can make inroads (savings) to meet balanced budget objectives..
So how did this expensive, unaffordable approach to Auckland Council financial management arise? There is no need to itemise these reasons as recent publicity has already done so. One glaring example of a lack of cost control however is the Council payroll. With over 1,100 (roughly 15% by number) of all Council employees drawing over $100,000 salary per annum this of itself is sufficient evidence of poor cost management for most ratepayers when their average incomes are in the mid-sixties.
In the interests of brevity we now merely list some of the missteps that have lead to the creation of our under-performing, expensive monster of a Super Council:
The result of these circumstances are well understood by Auckland ratepayers - just look at their rates bills and see the nearly daily headlines of the latest examples of Council waste and extravagance. Lack of control of Council expenditures has lead to unaffordable rates and their projected high percentage annual increases.
Only a total turnaround of leadership and of Council culture plus effective cost savings tactics can address these issues. Electors, as ratepayers seeking better value for their money have their opportunity next year to (albeit somewhat indirectly) set affordable cost-effective budgets by electing a Council with these as their principal agenda.
Larry Mitchell is a local government financial analysist. The views are his own and do not necessary reflect those of the Taxpayers’ Union. Larry can be contacted vai firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Sunday we suggested that New Zealanders should be given the ability to recall their representatives after the latest of a series of scandals involving Auckland Mayor Len Brown was revealed. The NZ Herald picked up our suggestion:
'Secret room' spending shows need for recall elections
A lobby group says revelations Auckland Council spent $30,000 on "secret rooms" for Len Brown show New Zealand needs recall elections to dismiss politicians before their terms expire.
The Council spent the money building a private bathroom and dressing room hidden behind a bookcase in the Auckland mayor's new office, the Herald on Sunday reported.
The Taxpayers' Union today said the Government should give local communities the ability to petition for recall elections.
"Councillors have already censured Len Brown for misusing funds but clearly the line in the sand is being ignored," said Jordan Williams, Taxpayers' Union executive director.
"A recall option would enable ratepayers to petition for a vote to fire a shameless [politician] who lacks any respect for those who pay the bills." Read more.
Voter recall options are gaining popularity overseas and it's time New Zealand had the conversation. Though often associated with the United States, where they have a long history and are used at both the state and local leve, recall mechanisms also exist in British Columbia, several Swiss cantons, the Philippines and Venezuela.
Recently the UK Government introduced the Recall of MPs Bill to the House of Commons on 11 September 2014, after pledging to the public to go so upon election in 2010. Many UK MPs, led by backbencher Zac Goldsmith, think the Government’s proposed threshold of recall only after a committee of MPs has found the representative to have been engaged in “serious wrongdoing” is too high.
Based on the swamp of emails we've been getting, many Auckland's think the threshold to censure a Mayor seems to be pretty high too!
We think that it's time the Government gave ratepayers a voice between elections. A recall option would enable ratepayers to petition for a vote to fire a shameless politicians who lacks any respect for those who pay the bills. New Zealanders need a mechanism to replace elected representatives if they fail to perform or bring their office into serious disrepute.
As Zac Goldsmith recently said:
“What is at stake is a matter of principle – do we trust out voters to hold us to account or not?”
It’s time to have the recall conversation.
That’s right – the Auckland Council’s CEO has a secretary that is advertising for a secretary.
We have all heard about stories of politicians looking to empire build courtesy of the taxpayers’ pocket, but this really takes the cake.
No wonder Auckland Council now has more bureaucrats on living off ratepayers than all of the councils it replaced combined.
“Your day will involve providing administrative support as and where required, this includes anything from managing correspondence, records management to diary management. This role is vital to ensuring that items are actioned, recorded and accurate.”
If that’s the role of the secretary’s secretary, what’s left for the secretary to do?
At a time when the Council needs to find savings of $860 per ratepayer, empire building in Council offices should not be tolerated.
With nearly 6,000 bureaucrats on the pay-roll, 811 of which are earning over $100,000 a year, Len Brown and his CEO ought to be out trimming the fat rather than increasing the burden on ratepayers even further.
Auckland Ratepayers “Wake Up” at last
Bernard Orsman's analysis last week of Auckland Council's financial trouble got right to the heart of the matter. The section headed "Hey Big Spender you’re in a deep financial hole" accurately nails the central issue facing Auckland’s overtaxed ratepayers. With a new 2015-2025 long term plan gearing up, Auckland Council's control of its expenditure long based on borrow and spend, at long last will now be put under the microscope.
The best place to start with the analysis is the new purposes of local government post the 2012 changes to the Local Government Act. Section 10 (requiring "cost- effective infrastructure expenditure") and section 11 (which lists the "core" activities) suggests that the Council is now staying well outside the typical activities we associate with councils.
Of course, Auckland Council has been quick to run to Wellington for funding of its plans, but I think Central Government should withhold any consideration of tolls, regional sales taxes (or other alternatives) until Auckland Council can produce solid evidence of its adoption of a principled "cost effective" "core" services-based budget. At present it is anything but.
In his regular blog this week, Joel Cayford, Reflections on Auckland Planning makes some telling and useful points with his advice directed straight at Auckland Councillors. These include the suggestion that in place of existing assumptions - that ratepayers should foot the bill for the city’s growth-infrastructure, affordability to ratepayers must become the central issue:
“Under the Council's present policy settings, ratepayers can't afford the Auckland Plan, and it's not equitable to require ratepayers to subsidise Auckland's economic growth. It's not that urban growth is a bad thing ... it becomes a bad thing, an unaffordable thing for existing ratepayers ... that does not justify overloading existing Auckland ratepayers with growth infrastructure costs”
Other worthwhile suggestions he makes for Auckland Councillors to consider ... “while they are at it’ are all matters that echo sentiments true of many other New Zealand Councils. These include:
Joel concludes by taking a swing at the vexed Housing Affordability conundrum, not merely an Auckland issue. He presents it in this way:
My biggest policy concern with the growth pathway Auckland is headed down is the assumption that existing ratepayers will subsidise costs of growth infrastructure needed to accommodate new ratepayers ..., then the true costs of new accommodation will not be paid by those buying into that part of Auckland's property market. This inbuilt subsidy is already causing property market failure. The craziness of Auckland's property market is partly driven by Auckland Council growth policies.
Let’s hope that this time, Auckland Councillors do two things:
First: They must be persuaded of the importance of achieving what was hoped when the former Auckland councils were amalgamated in the first place. It was supposed to be driven by excellent performance management and reporting, high standards of accountability and value for money and
Secondly: They should take up the enlightened constructive suggestions of Joel and other commentators - in the interests of their long-suffering ratepayers.
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction - the Devonport Flagstaff reports:
$100,000 curtain raiser for Devenport
A $100,000 budget has been set aside for a space-dividing, silk curtain in Devonport’s new library.
But the public art piece will be mostly invisible during the day.
Creator of the curtain, Judy Millar, was selected from 85 artists to design an object ofpublic art for the new building and bring a unique energy to its interior.
Auckland Council project manager David Thomas said the curtain will be three metres high and made out ofdouble-sided silk. It comes with its own dry-cleaning schedule and a ten-year maintenance or replacement budget 0f$30,000. “We expect that people will want to touch it,” Thomas says. A large part of the project’s total $100,000 budget is going into the tracking, railing and security system to hang the curtain, as well as the printing and sewing ofthe piece, he said.
The curtain will be visible from the street after business hours, when it will be used to divide off and secure the facility’s main area from the community room that remains open to the public.During library opening hours the curtain will be stored next to the new fireplace, where it will also be shaded from being bleached by the sun, Thomas says. It will also need to be treated with non-flammable chemicals, he says. Read more.
This is an inexcusable waste of ratepayer money. Does Auckland Council have no respect for those who pay its bills?
The culture of big spending in Auckland Council needs to stop. As our Ratepayers' Report shows Auckland already has eye watering debt, the highest in New Zealand on a per ratepayer basis, even before the big infrastructure projects have started.
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:
Yesterday afternoon we received a tipoff that Auckland Council recently funded a one day conference to explore the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved, also known as polyamory.
Last month the gaynz.com website reported that among the first recipients of Auckland Council’s first ever 'Rainbow Door Fund’ was 'Poly Panel, Discussions around Queer Polyamory’, a one day event exploring a framework of ethical, healthy polyamory relationships.
We think that Auckland ratepayers will be horrified that it appears their rates are being used to promote alternative lifestyles.
This is just as concerning as it would be were Auckland Council funding conservative lobby group conferences such as for Family First.
Earlier this year the Rainbow Door Fund was established to provide grants for glbti people. We think it is questionable for Auckland Council to fund community groups based on the sexual preferences of their members. Conferences such as these should be funded by the interest groups themselves, not from money meant for roads and core services.
Given the spiralling levels of Auckland Council debt, the Council should be focused on value for money, not throwing funding at favoured groups.
Brown thinks Aucklanders just want Council to get on with work Newstalk ZB - 14/12/2013
He may have been officially cleared, but the Taxpayers' Union believes Len Brown still has questions to answer.An Ernst and Young review has revealed the Auckland Mayor failed to declare tens of thousands of dollars worth of complimentary hotel rooms and upgrades.It also shows ten percent of texts and calls on a cellphone the ratepayers funded, were to his mistress.Taxpayers Union spokesman Jordan Williams doesn't buy the idea the report puts the Mayor in the clear.
Len Brown is hoping Aucklanders will consider his conduct, including extensive personal use of a council cellphone, in context.The Mayor thinks he's done nothing wrong, and says the rules aren't clear.
Len Brown says an overhaul of the issues will make the rules more clear.
Report doesn't address secret trip to China - Taxpayers' Union Yahoo! New Zealand - 13/12/2013
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