An Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance can’t come soon enough
Broken promises, eye watering rate hikes, 8500 staff, 130 spin doctors, diplomats in London, $200,000 penis art, $100,000 silk curtains, fashion consultants for finance staff, cut library hours and no berm mowing. Is this is SuperCity we hoped for?
What went wrong with Rodney Hide’s creature of efficient governance and local democracy? Auckland Council is case in point supporting the economic literature that suggests that local government suffers from diseconomies of scale once a council gets larger than around 250,000 residents. It is little wonder that Auckland Council is greater than the sum of its former parts.
In 2013, David Farrar and I established the Taxpayers’ Union to fight against government waste and argue for lower taxes. We could not have envisioned how much time and effort Auckland Council would consume.
Our staff and volunteers battle with the council’s corporatised spin machine every day. Its 130 communications staff habitually ignore information requests, leak requested material to handpicked media (in order to control a story) and bend over backward to protect the Mayor and his deputy.
Combine that with a weak Ombudsman to oversee the applicable freedom of information laws, it is little wonder that so many Aucklanders become frustrated trying to hold the council to account.
The recent faux consultation on the 10-year budget is a perfect example of the council’s spin over substance approach. Why listen to experts and those most knowledgeable when you can use the ratepayer-funded platform to send propaganda to every Auckland letterbox and social media account?
The documentation was laughable. Real "consultation" would not have left out the option for trimming budgets and cutting excess. The council has used the process to frame issues such as transport funding as a "choice" between increased rates and new motorway tolls. It’s a case of pick your poison.
Even if you’re fortunate enough to have escaped the Super City rate hikes you’ll soon be paying in other ways.
Tax hikes as well as rates
Local Government New Zealand (a Wellington-based lobby group in large funded by Auckland ratepayers) is managing a campaign to promote law changes that will allow Len Brown to enact motorway tolls and local petrol taxes. Those proposals might have merit if they were to replace money otherwise collected through rates, but the stated purpose is to grow the council’s revenue.
Auckland needs a dedicated group to hold the council’s feet to the fire. That role should rest with the business groups but the council has captured the EMA, Property Council and even the troubled Heart of the City. All three rely on substantial ratepayer or CCO (council-controlled organisation) funding.
While the leaders of the various groups do their best, anyone with experience in a peak body knows that there’s a limit to how much you can bite the hand that feeds your organisation.
So who is left? Affordable Auckland is well meaning but lacks the broad support to push into the mainstream. Cr Cameron Brewer could have done it but has apparently chosen a return to the private sector over a tilt at the Mayoralty. In any case, a politician can only go so far without having an organisation to help take on the vested interests.
In November, Mike Hosking asked in a New Zealand Herald column: “Am I the only one who thinks things around Auckland Council are getting hopelessly out of control?”
No you’re not Mike but Auckland needs a political group to coordinate opposition, lay out an alternative and set the wheels in motion for a departure from the status quo come the 2016 elections.
The time has come for an Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance. All it will need is your support.
Jordan Williams is the executive director of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union