It’s been a very busy and eventful first month at Auckland Council.
Unfortunately, the looming $270 million [amended upward in December to $295 million] budget shortfall has cast a rather dark shadow. It is troubling that the information the council was more than a quarter of a billion dollars in the red was only disclosed after the election.
I went into politics to improve Auckland and the quality of life of its people. It’s frustrating having to spend so much time now on essentially cleaning up the mess left by the previous council when so much needs to be done.
Also frustrating is being totally reliant on council management for financial advice. In other words reliant on the people who got us into this mess to get us out of it. That is why I am arguing for opening the books and an independent assessment of the council’s finances. Meanwhile every day my email inbox is filled with complaints from unhappy residents who have been shabbily treated by the council and CCOs, especially Auckland Transport. It’s no secret the council/CCO bureaucracy spend significant amounts – too much – on itself. Auckland Transport/AT to which the mayor has just appointed me as a director is a case in point. AT rents a high-end office tower at the Viaduct Harbour. Despite outsourcing all its public transport operations to the private sector – which is mainly Australian corporates and investment companies – AT has over 1800 staff. Just how well these corporates have been doing thanks to Auckland ratepayers was revealed in a Weekend Herald investigation in 2021 in a report headlined ‘Super Rich in the Super City – the companies pocketing $10b of ratepayers money’. Between 2010 and 2020, ‘Figures provided by the council group under the Official Information Act show Auckland Transport accounts for about $7b of the $10b spend.’ Heading the list were the roads construction companies Downers and Fulton Hogan. Then, only a couple of weeks ago the Herald ran two stories, which on the face of it were quite different but I believe connected.
The first related to the extraordinary profits earned by Fulton Hogan. The headline read ‘Fulton Hogan staff take up shares as dividend jumps 46%’ As the Herald reported, ‘The company continues to rack up impressive profits…’. During the first 10 years of the Super City, Fulton Hogan earned $1.5b from the public purse. One can be sure it’s quite a bit more than that now.
The second article was headlined: ‘Auckland Transport axing of almost 1000 bus services to reduce cancellations…’ The story goes on to identify the cause of the cancellations – a lack of bus drivers. This due to the unwillingness of the bus companies to provide decent wages and safe conditions sufficient to attract qualified drivers.
The connecting link I believe is Auckland Transport. The Council has spent itself into financial difficulties but It is clear the enormous amount of money dispensed by Auckland Transport to its contractors as well as its own considerable overheads is a significant factor. AT is not only very expensive, it is deeply unpopular with Aucklanders. It gives ever appearance of favouring its corporate contractors at the expense of the wishes of the people of Auckland. This is exemplified by some of the controversial gold plated ‘road improvement’ projects it has imposed and is planning to impose on this ward. These should be put on hold until the financial crisis is resolved and the concerns of the community are met. An example is the ‘road improvement’ project extending from Point Chevalier to Great North Road. Yet members of the community are adamant traffic flows are working perfectly fine right now and relatively safely. There have been just two fatal accidents in the area in the last ten years. The budgeted cost for the project is $82m.
The Grey Lynn Residents Association coordinators of the community-led ‘Vision for Great North Road’, Brandon Wilcox and David Batten recently wrote to Mayor Wayne Brown describing in damning terms the ‘half-baked’ way AT has planned the project. The letter declares AT’s ‘sole objectives were to add bike lanes, speed the flow of buses, and improve safety by removing over 80% of on-street parking [130 car parks], to the great detriment of our business community’. I share these concerns and support GLRA’s sensible request for the mayor to “Push ‘pause’” until the job can be done properly. I believe there is a better way and that the things that are wrong about Auckland can be fixed by the things that are right about Auckland. I take this opportunity to wish Ponsonby News readers a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.