June 05, 2017
The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance can reveal that Auckland Council spent $6,200 of ratepayers’ money to bring in specialist lift software engineers to enable the elevators in its Albert Street headquarters to announce floor levels in Te Reo Māori, rather than just English.
Information released by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, states that this is a pilot project, which may be extended to other council sites across the city.
While everyone supports more use of Te Reo, is spending more than $6,000 of ratepayers’ money so office staff are treated to Te Reo numeracy really the highest priority?
From our perspective the question is, do ratepayers really get $6,000 of value from changing the language of a lift announcement in an office building? Is it really a priority when new rates are having to be introduced, and our motorways are congested?
Phil Goff was elected to tackle Auckland Council’s wasteful spending. Instead, he’s trying to introduce new rates to whack the tourism sector, while money is being wasted literally, as he takes the lift up his ivory tower.
UPDATE: An Auckland Council official has been quoted in the media today claiming that the 'Reo Uplift Initiative' has only cost ratepayers $700. This is totally inconsistent with our LGOIMA request, as shown below, that made very clear that the whole $6,200 has been spent on the initiative. You can see our media response to the comments below:
May 31, 2017
Nice try Auckland Council - but the spin only makes you look foolish
Auckland Council’s claims in media that changes to make its Albert Street HQ lifts speak Te Reo cost only $700, are totally inconsistent with earlier correspondence from the Council released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act on the Council’s ‘Reo Uplift Initiative’, made public yesterday by the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance.
Ratepayers’ Alliance Spokesperson Jo Holmes says, “It is concerning that officials now appear to be willing to mislead the public in order to try and quell public criticism about the organisation’s spending priorities. The letter from the Council makes very clear that the whole $6,200 spend was part of the ‘Reo Uplift Initiative’. The $700 only relates to paying someone for the voice recording.”
“Either the Council official being quoted in the media does not know how much her own projects cost, or there is an element of spin. Perhaps there is patch protection going on.”
“It is with some irony that the ratepayer-funded spin doctors are calling this an ‘investment’. Oh please, while Aucklanders are parked on motorways their Council is ‘investing’ in the vocabulary of their office tower lifts.”
Our efforts to hold Auckland Councillors to account are really getting under their skin
We've had the most incredible set of events over the last 48 hours here at the Ratepayers' Alliance
On Monday the media website 'The Spinoff' carried as its lead story an article which alleged (although it portrayed it as fact) a nasty and totally untrue allegation that our key personnel had been sending white feathers to Councillors as a symbol of cowardice. They were drawing a WWI inference, alleging that we considered those Councillors supportive of Phil Goff's proposed rate hikes akin to wartime traitors.
On social media, the claims went even further: that our efforts to hold Councillors to their 2% rates promise are 'far-right' extremism, and (another totally made up allegation) alleged that we had pinned white feathers to the front doors of Councillors' homes. These allegations are totally untrue.
After some heated correspondence, the allegations have been totally withdrawn and the story completely rewritten. The Spinoff has now apologised, but has still not explained why it made the allegations, and why no effort whatsoever was made to seek comment from us prior to publication.
Council-funded media organisation doing a hit job?
Incidentally, The Spinoff is funded by the controversial "Heart of the City" group - which is, of course, funded through rates!
Kiwiblog's David Farrar has explained what happened, and why we think it was a Council hit job.
The timing seems just too cute, with the Council's Finance and Performance Committee voting this week on the Budget. Was this intended to distract or discredit us? If so, it won't work.
Phil Goff's first budget
As mentioned, tomorrow the Finance and Performance Committee votes on this year's Annual Plan (Budget) which sets the rates for the next financial year.
The Mayor is proposing a 2.5% rates hike as well as new rates on businesses and hotels. It is being sold as a 'bed tax' - in fact, it is a plain rate just targeting a particular property sector.
Stand with us for fiscal prudence - keep politicians to their word
2% ≠ 2.5% (plus new taxes). These next few weeks will be a test for the Councillors who signed our 2% Ratepayer Protection Pledge but are now trying to back away.
For example, Orakei Councillor Desley Simpson says she is only bound by the Pledge "if the community doesn't tell her they want higher rates".
It seems she's relying on the Council's spin in its consultation documents that a 2% rate hike would lead to a reduction in services and that the majority of people in her ward gave feedback that they want service levels to stay the same.
We don't accept Cr Simpon's excuse - or the Council's spin. Surely with inflation at 2.2%, and the Council budgeting to reduce spending on transport infrastructure (yes, it really is reducing - despite the 9.9% rates hike last year!) Cr Simpson and the others should be able to find 0.2% efficiency. Cutting back on ballooning staff numbers would be a good place to start.
In addition, even if the 2% rates pledge matched Phil Goff's 2.5%, we don't see how these Councillors can vote for that and new 'targeted' rates on top. That's not what Aucklanders voted for!
Councillors appear to be siding with the Mayor, but the public feedback needed now is clear: Councillors should stick to their pledges.
Don't let the dirty-trick campaign deflect from the key message: politicians should be held to their word
We're asking our supporters to click here to email Councillors telling them to stick to their election promises.
Given that this Council appears to be stopping at nothing to prevent Councillors being held to their pre-election promises, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure Councillors who stood on a platform last year to keep rates at 2% are held to it.
Councillors who said they would keep rates low should do it. Click here to send an email.
In 2015/16, rates went up by 9.9%. Phil Goff promised to keep annual rate rises to 2.5%. Instead, Mr Goff is pushing for at least 2.5% and new "targeted rates". To do that, he needs some of the Councillors who signed the 2% Ratepayer Protection Pledge to breach it. That's what we need to prevent.
Please lend one minute to support the campaign keeping politicians to their word by clicking here.
Thank you for your support.
March 31, 2017
Earlier in the week submissions closed on Auckland Council's Annual Budget - the document which sets rates for the financial year beginning in July (our submission is available to read here).
We sent in our submission and asked to present in person to Councillors, as has been common in the past. One of the issues the Council will be considering is Phil Goff's proposal to increase the wages of the Council and impose a "living wage" for all staff. We had lined up an expert labour economist who used to work for the Department of Labour to present to Councillors.
We've now discovered that to avoid having to listen to ratepayers, Councillors resolved not to allow people to submit in person on this year’s budget. They didn’t even want us – New Zealand’s largest ratepayer group - to present. They said ratepayers are not a ‘key stakeholder’.
"We'll decide what your rates are, but we don't want to hear from you" — Auckland Councillors
Councillor Daniel Newman proposed an amendment to Mayor Phil Goff’s consultation plan. This is what is recorded in the Council minutes:
Councillors voted to only hear from their own group of "sock puppet" organisations like the Property Council (which the Council uses our money to fund).
We wrote to the Finance Committee Chair Councillor Ross Clow asking what sort of consultation involves only inviting hand-picked parties to present to Councillors before submissions even close. You can read our letter here.
As explained in the letter, what the Council is doing is probably illegal. But Councillors know that by making sure that it hears from those most likely to mount a legal challenge, they can avoid the bad publicity of having ratepayers tell them what they think about yet another year of rate hikes many times the level of inflation.
We say that ratepayers are a key stakeholder and should be allowed a say on this year's budget
If you agree that Councillors should be hearing from ratepayers and not just the Council's hand-picked elite, please take a moment to email those Councillors who voted to stop you having your say on your rates bill.
March 31, 2017
Key points of the Ratepayers' Alliance submission on the draft Annual Budget
- Until such a time as Aucklanders can trust the Council to be responsible with our money, we do not support any rate increase in excess of inflation. Before rate increases are exercised, the Council needs to show that it values ratepayer dollars as much as those ratepayers who earned them.
- The consultation papers fail to show that the Council has taken any meaningful steps in the preparation of the Budget to cut wasteful spending. Instead, all efforts appear to be directed at finding new ways to increase the Council’s tax burden on Aucklanders and increase spending. If the Council takes all forms of current spending for granted, then rates will never plateau or fall. There is no evidence of the spending reviews talked about during last year’s election campaign.
- The Council cannot credibly claim that rate hikes will go toward the purpose of better infrastructure. We saw this with the implementation of the transport levy. According to the CEO of Auckland Transport, after the levy was introduced, there was a reduction in capital expenditure on transport. In other words, Aucklanders were lied to.
- Those Councillors who signed the 2% Ratepayer Protection Pledge are bound to support the low rates (2%) option.
- There is significant evidence that living wage policies hurt the people they are intended to help. Lower-skilled workers are crowded out of the market by higher-skilled candidates attracted by the higher wage. While the living wage policy would be costly for ratepayers, the desired reductions in poverty are unlikely to be achieved.
- Unless targeted tourism provider rates are accompanied by equal decreases in residential rates, then none of the options in the consultation papers are appropriate.
Read the full submission here:
December 01, 2016
Hot on the heels of ATEED’s ill-fated attempt to rebrand Auckland as the ‘place desired by many’ comes news of another undesirable and wholly unnecessary branding exercise by an Auckland CCO (Council Controlled Organisation).
We have obtained information under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 showing that Auckland Transport has used ratepayers’ money to pay for a re-brand of cycle lobby group, Cycle Action, into ‘Bike Auckland’.
Ratepayers’ money should not be used to fund lobby groups or frivolous re-branding exercises. When Auckland’s roads are in disrepair and basic services are being cut to the bone, ratepayers will be alarmed to know their money is being used in this way.
Although the amount is small, it is the principle. What role is it of Auckland Transport to pay for rebranding for groups which lobby it? The Ratepayers’ Alliance would never accept a cent for something like this. It begs the question, who is lobbying who here?
How many more lobby groups are being funded by ratepayers in this way? It is just the pet lobby groups of a few Councillors that get this special treatment or is it every lobby group? Either way, ratepayers don't get value for money funding the Council's sockpuppet lobby groups.
You can view the Council's response here:
October 17, 2016
The confirmed Council election results have now been released, and the efforts of the Ratepayers’ Alliance have altered the shape of the Council for the better.
A majority of Councillors have committed to fiscal prudence
Despite all the talk of the centre-right “Auckland Future” ticket failing (see the NZ Herald’s post-mortem here), your humble Ratepayers’ Alliance has ensured that the majority of councillors under the new Mayor have made a commitment to limit rate hikes and stand for fiscal prudence in our Super City!
We held those who voted for the 9.9% rates hike to account...
Penny Webster was one of the
"Terrible Ten" held to account
Firstly, our campaign efforts and leafletting drops in the Rodney ward saw Len Brown’s former Chairperson of the Strategy and Finance Committee booted off the Council and replaced with Greg Sayers. You will recall that Cr Webster claimed to champion fiscal prudence when, in fact, she was one of the ‘Terrible Ten’ that allowed the 9.9% rate hikes last year. We are delighted to have helped elect a Councillor for Rodney who signed our 2% “Ratepayer Protection Pledge”.
Also gone is Calum Penrose (Manurewa-Papakura ward) – another one of the ‘Terrible Ten’. Well done to Daniel Newman for what we understand was a very competitive campaign.
...and ensured a new Council won't repeat the same mistake
Of the new Council of 20 - a majority have either signed our Ratepayer Protection Pledge, an equivalent 2% pledge, or have a proven record of standing up for ratepayers.
Reasonable Rates and Sensible Spending
Since the formation of the Ratepayers’ Alliance 18 months ago, it’s been very humbling to have had tens of thousands of Aucklanders join with us and support the cause to put Auckland Council onto a course of reasonable rates and sensible spending. Achieving what we set out to do from the beginning – a council majority standing up for ratepayers – was only made possible thanks to you.
With your support, we'll keep fighting for you!
The work isn’t over yet. Now our focus turns to holding those who have signed the Pledge to account and continuing to shine the light on wasteful Council spending. To allow us to keep the heat on the newly elected Council - and ensure their words are put into action - please take a moment to donate.
Click here to chip in
From the whole team here at the Ratepayers' Alliance, thank you again for your support - and making this fantastic result possible.
October 17, 2016
The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is calling on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to reach across the political divide and appoint a councillor with a track record of fiscal prudence for the Deputy Mayor’s role.
Today's speculation in the NZ Herald about the possible appointment of Franklin ward Councillor Bill Cashmore as a centre-right option for Deputy Mayor by incoming mayor Phil Goff is worrisome.
Mr Cashmore was one of the ‘Terrible Ten’ who voted for Len Brown’s deeply unpopular 9.9% rates increases last year. Whilst Mr Goff may try to spin a Cashmore appointment as an attempt to minimize the left versus vs divide - ratepayers will not be fooled.
Cashmore has a proven record of voting for measures that impact heavily on the pockets of ratepayers. Whilst identifying as centre right his actions demonstrate quite clearly fiscal prudence is not the top of his list. He is one of the Councillors whom outright refused to sign the Ratepayer Protection Pledge – limiting rate hikes to 2 percent a year.
Mr Goff needs to appoint a deputy who has the confidence of the ratepayers. Cr Cashmore is not the man.
October 08, 2016
A win for ratepayers
The preliminary results of the Auckland Council election represent a win for Auckland ratepayers and the end of Len Brown’s regime of reckless spending and empire-building.
We are pleased that at least 9 members who signed our Ratepayer Protection Pledge have been elected onto the new Council. Add to this the election of Auckland Future’s Denise Krum (having signed up to Auckland Future’s version of the pledge), and proven fiscal-conservative Daniel Newman, the new Council should enjoy a majority of 12 fiscally conservative members in a Council of 20, should Grant Gillon win his neck and neck battle in North Shore.
The results are a stark representation of how fed up Aucklanders were with the Len Brown regime, and their wasteful spending priorities and rates hikes. We have campaigned tirelessly for an end to this regime, and today we achieved that result.
We are particularly pleased to see the election of Greg Sayers in Rodney. The Ratepayers’ Alliance put considerable effort into exposing former Councillor Penny Webster, who was Len Brown’s chair of the Council’s Strategy and Finance Committee. Clearly this campaign struck a chord with Rodney ratepayers.
The Ratepayer Protection Pledge prevents those candidates from voting for any measures which increase the total average burden of rates, levies, and other compulsory Council charges, more than 2% per annum. Over the coming three years, the 16,000-plus members of the Ratepayers’ Alliance will be ensuring that these pledge is upheld.
Candidates backed by the Ratepayers’ Alliance elected onto the Council (based on preliminary results):
September 29, 2016
- Albany – John Watson and Wayne Walker
- Albert-Eden-Roskill – Christine Fletcher
- Howick – Sharon Stewart and Dick Quax
- Manurewa-Papakura – Daniel Newman (Fiscal Conservative) and John Walker (agreed to pledge)
- Maungakiekie-Tāmaki – Denise Krum (Auckland Future)
- North Shore – Grant Gillion neck and neck
- Ōrākei – Desley Simpson
- Rodney – Greg Sayers
- Waitematā and Gulf – Mike Lee
The Auckland Ratepayers Alliance is calling on those Aucklanders who have not yet cast their vote to give very careful consideration to whether they want to see a return of the incumbents who have allowed a culture of waste and poor accountability to fester under their watch.
September 19, 2016
This comes after a former Senior Manager at Auckland Transport, Murray Noone, is being tried in the Auckland High Court for charges relating to bribery in the course of his employment at the Council.
It will come as a bitter disappointment, but no surprise, to the ratepayers of Auckland that Council's culture of waste that the Alliance has been shining a light on for 18 months extends to one of corruption and bribery.
The Auckland High Court heard that one of Auckland Transport's senior managers Murray Noone, accepted nearly $1.1 million in bribes from a private company he was involved in awarding roading contracts to. The proceedings are exposing examples of alleged corruption and bribery up to the highest levels of Auckland Council.
New Zealanders have long taken pride in this country as being one where backhanders and special favours are called out and acted upon swiftly. The fact that this sort of culture, one which most Kiwis find abhorrent, does not only exist, but is found at the very highest of levels within a public organization, is nothing less than shameful.
Since its launch in April 2015 the Ratepayers' Alliance has been working tirelessly to expose waste and hypocrisy, not only by senior staff, but Councillors themselves. The ordinary ratepayer will no longer be fooled by Council spin that all is well. Council recently spent $90,000 to discover that only 17% of Aucklanders trust their Council to make the right decisions. These latest revelations are likely to see that percentage plummet even further.
At these elections, Aucklanders have the ability to vote for a new Mayor and a new Council. Those who appear to condone corrupt practices should be kicked to the kerb.
The Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance is surprised at the hypocrisy of Councillor Chris Darby's election signs stating that he will 'Rein in Rates', and is calling on Aucklanders to think carefully about what their incumbent Councillors have voted for in the past when deciding on who to vote for this election.
Chris Darby was one of the members of the "Terrible Ten" who voted for Len Brown's 9.9% rates hike. It smacks of hypocrisy that that he is campaigning on a slogan to 'Rein in Rates'.
The public have had enough of the sort of wishy-washy, swinging in the wind decision making of many of our incumbent Councillors. Many of them have failed in their role to provide strong governance, and as a result, the bureaucrats of Auckland Council have consistently seized opportunities to run their own agenda, and pay little heed to the concerns of everyday Aucklanders.
Ratepayers of this city will be looking to elect representatives who are prepared to take a stance, and stay committed to that stance and provide the necessary strong leadership to steer Auckland through the challenges of the next three years.
Under Len Brown' s regime the bureaucracy has ruled at Council at almost every level possible. It is little wonder that only 17% of Aucklanders trust the Council to make the right decisions.
Only those Councillors who have signed the ‘Ratepayer Protection Pledge’ can be trusted to limit rates. It speaks volumes that Mr Darby refused to sign.
List of candidates who are on board:
- Mark Thomas
- John Palino
- Stan Martin
- Binh Thanh Nguyen
- Christine Fletcher
- Benjamin Lee
- Greg McKeown
- Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor
- Dick Quax
- Sharon Stewart
- Ian Colin Ireland
- Greg Sayers
- Steven Garner
- Holly Southernwood
- John Riddell
- David Rankin
Waitematā and Gulf
- Mike Lee
- Bill Ralston
- Rob Thomas
- Anne Degia-Pala
- Duncan MacDonald